Why you should back your characters into corners

As writers and creators, we love to see our characters win the day (well, most of the time), and it is very satisfying seeing the end result after weeks or months or even years of writing a novel.
That’s because we start our characters on a path, we push them into an unknown journey and we play God with their lives – that’s the power at our fingertips. But writers shouldn’t be too kind to their characters. In fact, they should be mean to them.

Why?  Because it makes for a better story. 
Think about real life. It’s not all flowers, rose-tinted clouds and pretty rainbows. We face upheaval all the time; we face dilemmas, we have to make difficult decisions, we have to meet problems head on and solve them somehow. Ordinary life can be tough sometimes, and so it is true of your main characters.  In a sense, what happens in real life can merge with fictional life in order to create a sense of reality.

Problems, dilemmas, stress and all manner of difficulties should form the pathway for your characters, because if you don’t, then you will create a very weak story that just won’t work. Your main character has to work hard to reach his or her goal; it should never be an easy ride.
Every story you read has many similar situations written for the main character – it’s a fundamental ingredient that forms the basis of fiction writing.

As a writer, your job is to back your characters into a corner and make the situation as difficult as possible. One of the results of this is that the plot must evolve, and therefore a plot twist is born to keep the momentum of the story moving forward (and to keep the reader hooked.)  That’s how many plot twists naturally come about.
In other words, you have to be inventive and creative to help get the character out of that corner, to overcome the problem, to continue the story and move onto the next dilemma (and the next plot twist).  It’s yet another way of moving the story forward.

Of course, such difficult situations create tension in the narrative because then the main character must somehow – against the odds sometimes – find a way out of that terrible situation.  What will happen? How will the main character achieve it? How will this affect the story arc? 
Such terrible, difficult situations also create conflict with other characters with whom the main character interacts, which is a good thing, because fiction needs conflict.  It can also create conflict internally for the main character, especially if they are alone to face a dilemma. These elements in turn help render action scenes, since getting out of such situations necessitates action, and therefore, drama.  And readers just love drama.

So, by backing your character into a corner at a difficult moment, and with all these components available to expand and exploit the plot, it leads to one thing – it keeps the reader interested with the lure of ‘What happens next?’
However you write your story, and whatever dramas you create for your characters, don’t be afraid to make life unbearable or difficult for them. Fiction writing can sometimes be a complex undertaking, but making life awful for your main characters is so simple to do and yet it accomplishes so much by doing so.

To summarise:
Backing your characters into corners achieves the following:-

·        It moves the story forward
·        It creates conflict & tension
·        It evolves the plot
·        It keeps the reader interested and vested in the main character
·        It creates drama
·        It produces action scenes

Remember; don’t be nice to your main characters, be mean!  And wherever possible, back them into a corner and see where it takes you.

Next week: Getting to grips with simple punctuation.


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