For a character’s story to be interesting, they have to do interesting things.
Activities and pastimes we enjoy depend on our personal preferences. A writer’s passion can make a subject matter more accessible, but you need more than that to engage a reader fully, regardless of their personal preferences.
The tale of Jack Jackson who went surfing for the weekend and had a really fun time catching awesome waves is only going to be of interest to Jack Jackson and people who are really, really into surfing. And who can also read.
When it comes to stories, interesting means something different.
What they want can be a pot of gold or to get out of a haunted house alive, the only requirement is that it isn’t easy to obtain.
Once you know that, putting ridiculous obstacles in the character’s way is the easy part. Providing entertaining and satisfying solutions is where things can get unstuck.
The danger is that because the writer has the ability to make anything happen at any time there’s always a way out of any situation for the character. Or cheating as it’s also known.
On the other hand, if you do set your character’s an interesting challenge, you then have to fulfil the expectation that they’ll be able to able to meet it. If Johnny is the smartest boy in the world, you then have to write him in a way that proves it. And if the princess demands the prince give her a gift that shows he loves her most in the world, then you have to come up with a gift that satisfies both the princess and the reader.
It’s obviously far easier to rely on perseverance than inspiration. The knight defeats the dragon by fighting as hard as he can. The man climbs the mountain by gritting his teeth and refusing to give up.
But coming up with a solution isn’t enough, it has to be a solution worth reading about. And the only way to do that is to paint yourself into a corner. You have to take away all the easy answers, the obvious answers, the answers that are within reach, and then see what you can come up with.
If the knight is fighting a dragon whose hide is invulnerable to weapons and its flame can burn through any metal, then what?
Of course, then the problem becomes the writer’s. How do you defeat the undefeatable?
This is where reading comes in useful. Not for finding solutions you can ‘borrow’ (although that is definitely one option) but because when you read a story where the problem seems insurmountable, and then it gets surmounted (is that a word?) your mind opens up to the possibilities of not only how to solve problems but also how to present them so that they seem unsolvable when they aren’t.
Because that power the writer has to make anything happen, that works for the question as well as the answer. Once an idea starts to form in your mind, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can adapt the scenario to fit it better.
If it occurs to me that my knight might not want to kill the dragon and instead make a deal with it, then I can go back and make dragons in this world intelligent and capable of understanding speech. As far as the reader will be concerned that was always the case. They don’t get to see earlier drafts.
It can be a bit scary trusting your brain to come up with something useful, especially if you’ve been thinking about it for a while and nothing seems to be happening. But all the best ideas are annoyingly shy and withdrawn. And sometimes you will fail and have to think of another approach. But sometimes you will succeed (most of the time in fact), and because you made it so tough for yourself, the solution will be all the more impressive for it.
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