Cooking Up Complications: Making Things Tough for Your Character

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Don’t make things easy on your character. In fact, you should make things as difficult as possible. Most of us know this and we throw one complication after another in the path of our beloved character.

When it comes time to cook up a complication, many writers turn to their character’s flaws. Perhaps a character, let’s call her Marie, who is a compulsive shopper needs to get home for her sister’s wedding. Unfortunately, she’s maxed out her credit cards and can’t charge the air fare.

In many ways this works. You have the complications you need to create tension and, if you handle the story in the right way, your character grows by the time your reader reaches the last word. Marie scrambles around returning and selling all that she can. By the time she can afford the air fare she’s realized how little all this stuff meant and how truly grateful she is to make it back to her family.

Not bad for a feel good story but what if you want to create something with more tension? More depth? Then the complications need to go deeper. Create a moral dilemma for your character with complications based on her strengths.

This time we are working with Diane. Diane’s friends and family love her honesty because she isn’t going to hide facts or sugar coat reality when they go to her for advice. This unwillingness to lie could make some people harsh but Diane is also incredibly loyal. She truly has the best interests of her husband and friends at heart.

Now let’s consider how these positives can become negatives.

Scenario: The company Diane’s husband works for is failing. He has confided in his wife but the information can’t be made public for weeks. If it is, he will never find another job in the industry. Unfortunately, Diane’s best friend has come into an inheritance. She wants to invest the money to assure a good life for herself and her children. She is consider the failing company as her primary investment.

Diane can’t be honest and loyal to both her husband and friend at the same time. Instant moral dilemma.

Now its your turn. Look for ways to use your character’s strengths to create tension and soon she’ll face a moral dilemma that will drive the story forward and keep your readers talking long after the last word has been read.


Author Sue Bradford Edwards blogs at One Writer's Journey.


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