Making Your Characters' Lives Harder:
Why You Need To Do This & How It Can Be Done

As a writer, you have to make sure things never get too secure and comfortable for your characters (at least, before the end of the story). This article is going to explain just why it's so important that you do this and list out some various ways it can be done.

Table of Contents

Why you need to complicate your characters' lives

Whether you give your characters serious challenges or just make things somewhat uncomfortable for them, reasons to make things difficult for your characters include:

Creating drama and conflict. Making your characters' lives harder gives them challenges to face and obstacles to overcome or work their way around. This helps you create suspenseful scenarios, which in turn makes your story engaging and interesting.

Motivating your characters. Happy and contented characters don't have any reason to do anything. Unhappy characters, however, have a reason to do something - whether it's to leave, to try to do something about the source of their unhappiness, or to just complain about it.

Making your characters relatable. Giving your characters problems that your audience can relate to helps make them sympathize and care about them. Seeing a fictional character suffer through the same problems as oneself can also feel validating, which can give one a little boost of morale - and even hope, especially if the character succeeds in coping or dealing with the problem in a believable way.

Setting the right tone and atmosphere. Creating an uncomfortable atmosphere is often crucial to writing suspense and horror. Nobody's going to feel tense or creeped out if everything is sunshine and daisies for everyone!

Creating a satisfying payoff. A huge part of what makes a good payoff feel so satisfying is seeing the characters finally gain relief from their troubles. It's hard to do that if they don't have any troubles to gain relief from in the first place!

Ways you can accomplish this

The environment. Any environment can potentially be a difficult one. Utilities might be damaged or absent in the home or city. A home might have a dangerously damaged staircase or awful insulation. Common appliances might be missing or broken. Or the house might simply be eerie or off-putting in some way. Out in the wilderness or in rural environments, the terrain might be difficult to navigate - for example, it might be steep or swampy, or an overgrowth of plants might make passage difficult, or there might just be an abundance of thorns.

The weather. Bad weather can make an otherwise safe environment incredibly dangerous. Extreme temperatures and severe storms can present all sorts of problems for your characters. And weather that's simply unpleasant can still put your characters in a bad mood that potentially leads to an argument.

Limited or unavailable resources. Necessary supplies might be hard to come by, or are simply absent. Something your characters need might get lost or broken. Or maybe one of your characters just doesn't have the money to afford something desired or needed.

Lack of skill or knowledge. Maybe your characters are stuck in an area they know almost nothing about, and thus do not know what to do. Maybe the current problem involves something outside of your main character's area of expertise. Maybe none of your characters simply have the skills they need to get out of their current predicament.

Lack of mobility. Maybe the car broke down. Maybe a bridge got washed out. Maybe the rickety old staircase finally just fell apart. Maybe there's a locked door. Maybe a character has to use a wheelchair and can't maneuver the current environs easily.

Other people. Maybe someone disagrees with one of your characters and so instigates uncomfortable arguments. Maybe someone wants to capture or kill one of them. Maybe other characters are competing with yours for the same limited resources. Maybe somebody wants something that one of your characters is unable or unwilling to give. Or maybe they're just generally unfriendly and unhelpful toward your characters. (Just make sure to give these characters coherent motives and reasons - don't write characters who simply do things because they inconvenience your protagonists!)

Animals. Depending on the situation, animals might also end up competing with your characters for resources. Herbivores might come to eat somebody's crops, or predators might compete for wild game. Dangerous animals may have already claimed territory that your characters want to use and will fight to defend it. Animals might also carry diseases that your characters don't want to get. Or your characters might just have to put up with someone's unfriendly and destructive pet for awhile.

The system. Bureaucracy is always frustrating. So are rules and regulations that feel nonsensical or pointlessly nitpicky. Overly-restrictive rules might make it harder for your characters to do what they need or want to do.

Illness and injury. Whether physical or mental, these can make it hard (if not outright impossible sometimes) for your characters to get things done (at least for awhile).

Difficult decisions. This can include choices that challenge your character's sense of right and wrong, or that force your character to have to decide which bad option is the least awful/most livable, or situations that make your character have to choose whether to give up something important and dear or to remain as-is.

But remember that there's such a thing as overdoing it!

Giving your characters a bad time is absolutely necessary, but like anything else, there is such a thing as overdoing it. Too much torture and pain can numb or drain your audience or strain their willing suspension of disbelief. On Buildup, Payoff, & Contrast, Pointlessly Edgy Tropes To Reconsider Using, and Basic Tips To Create Better Characters With Tragic & Traumatic Backstories have advice on how to keep yourself from going overboard.

You might also take a look at...

Character Challenge & Obstacle Generator
Simple Ways To Fill Out & Humanize Your Character
On Giving Your Characters Flaws & Weaknesses
Tips For Writing Dark Stories, Settings, & Characters
Tips To Create & Write More Interesting & Believable Villains

Back to Plots & Plot Construction
Go to a random page!