A hallmark of bestselling novels is the constant suffering by (or threat of suffering to) the main characters.
The general rule of thumb to follow: Happy characters often equal unhappy readers.
Admittedly, if readers care about characters, they want the characters to achieve small wins throughout the story and the ultimate “big” win(s) at the end of the story. The secret is threading these “wins” into a flowing tapestry of pain, danger, threat, loss and disaster.
Bestselling novels contain many forms of pain you can use in your own short stories, scripts and novels. While not an exhaustive list, consider the following strategies as valuable guidelines as you Pour on the Pain in your own work:
- Interrupt/upset the life or routine of a character
- Betrayal by trusted friend, colleague or family member
- Shocking revelation that changes or colors a long-held character belief
- Block or impediment to character reaching a goal
- Professional Loss (job, career, skill set, etc)
- Legal Loss (criminal charges, arrest, etc)
- Emotional Loss (friend, family member, love, hope, trust, confidence)
- Physical Loss (loss of health, injury, sickness, disease, death)
- Mental Loss (memory, understanding, belief)
- Spiritual Loss (loss of faith)
- Settings that impede/block/halt the character from reaching goal
- Time limit on reaching minor or major goals in the story
- Any shock, twist or surprise
- Any complication
- Any form of conflict
- A proactive, determined and formidable adversary
Again, this list (and probably no list) can capture every tactic for injecting pain into a story. However, I hope this list generates ideas on how to infuse gripping emotion into every page of your current project by Pouring on the Pain.
Remember, a happy character usually means an unhappy reader.