While working on the revision for the fantasy novel, I realized something that’d passed me by on my previous edits. Well, I say ‘revision’ but mostly what I’m doing is falling under ‘rewrite’. I’m taking large chunks of my old draft, keeping what works, and cutting out what doesn’t. There’s a brand-new opening for our young hero, which gives him a bit more fleshing out and dispenses with some exposition in a manner better than I had written previously, but what I came across yesterday was something else entirely.
I realized I was being far too easy on my characters.
Conflict is the essence of good storytelling, and it happens all the time, even between people who care deeply about one another. It can be as simple as an ill-timed word or joke or as complex as coming down on opposite sides of a political or religious debate. And that’s before we get into anything morally questionable. The more we show our characters not getting along, the more we can relate to them. Because we don’t always get along.
This isn’t to say that you should always be beating up your characters. Give them little victories and moments to breathe where you can. But they’ll mean more if you make the characters earn them. Trial by combat may seem to be the easiest way to do that, but the operative word there is “easy”. Presenting a monolithic threat by way of a slavering beast, an enemy fleet or a goon squad can give way to action, sure, but there’s only so much development that can happen for our characters in the course of that particular kind of conflict. The readers may also have never engaged in ship-to-ship combat in space or magical duels or even gunfights. It’s far more likely they’ve had a shouting match with a family member or had their heart broken by a revelation from a loved one. Such things are much closer to home for most readers. Your story moves along more naturally, your characters grow deeper and more real and the experience you give your audience becomes richer.
To me, that’s worth putting some fictional people through a bit of hell.