When bad things happen to a character, a story gets more interesting. The bad doesn’t have to keep coming and coming. It can be one bad problem that gets worse as time goes on. It can be a chain reaction type of deal. One problem that the character is trying to solve, but every measure they take sinks them deeper into their dilemma. My problem is I love making more bad things happen. I love putting my main characters through the wringer. I think readers of my books enjoy that about me. While I’m writing, I have to go back many times and eliminate some of the bad so the major bad thing my character is facing can shine.
What a book can’t have is pages of nothing happening, but everyday life. I often receive books from indie authors, asking me to review their book. The ones that don’t have much happening, I find these kinds of books hard to keep reading. The ultimate goal is to give a glorious arc in the plot. This is when things are happening at a pace that isn’t too fast or slow, and there’s plenty of action, and the reader is able to follow along with the story with ease while at the same time being entertained. The more pages that are read, the plot intensifies and has a reader locked in. They must know what’s going to happen next.
There are two series of books that I think gave us a glorious arc: The Game of Thrones series and The Harry Potter series. One of the things that make both series great is the growth of the characters. It’s fascinating when a reader is introduced to a character, then watch that character grow emotionally and mentally after each trial they’re faced with. At the beginning of the book, the character is usually humble and vulnerable, allowing them to be easily victimized. But after getting beat up over and over again, they grow gradually and become their own defender and ready to take on their enemy. When the two face off, it’s has to be explosive and written well enough that the reader isn’t sure which side will actually win. At the end of the arc, there’s triumph. When the character experiences this triumph, the reader will too.
Today, that’s all I focused on: the arc of my story. By balancing how many bad things happen to my characters, and how many times they’re knocked backward before they can go forward, and showing how each lesson learned gives them more maturity, this makes for a very good story. I’ve never read the Harry Potter books and only have recently seen all eight movies. HBO had a back to back run-a-thon and I decided to give the movie a shot, since many people told me how good they were. By the time I got to the last three movies, I was hooked and needed to how things would end. What I liked about the movies most is Harry’s growth while staying true to his personality, and Vordemort’s increasing need to get what he wants. Getting his hand on the elder wand thickened the plot. How could Harry fight against such a wand with great strength? .
I got hooked for the same reason with GOT. Game of Thrones has so many characters, good and bad, and if you’re like me, you love bad ones and good ones. The way GOT’s plot was written, a reader saw growth on both sides. A few bad characters learned a few lessons after something bad happened to them, one or two even changing their outlook and the kind of person they were. Bad things happening to characters are good. But I have to show the growth of the character and how their growth motivates their next decision, and their next decision making their enemies more anxious to get what they want. Can you imagine what the Harry Potter series would have been like if Harry never improved in wizardry or if he cowered and allowed Ron and Hermoine to fight all of his battles? At the end of the series, he was a new man, almost reborn.
The reasons readers like when this happens in a book is because they can see themselves growing and becoming more and more courageous. Who wants to be a coward? Even cowards don’t want to be cowards. We all want to be victorious, but before characters in a book can become champions, they must first train and have a few qualifying battles. That’s what my characters were doing today, not only training but coming up with strategies that can get them out of trouble.