Sometimes, we writers can forget that our characters have to have small problems as well as the big problem, which is why we have a story to tell about them, but there is a reason why we need to break a bridge to divert their path or place a pebble in their shoe. Small problems help the story move along, but more importantly, they can add much needed tension and realism to your story.
Ways to add small problems:
Add stress to an already stressful situation. Have you ever been in a situation where you thought the day couldn’t possibly get any worse and then you come down with a wretched stomachache or you wake up with a cold, but you have to push through anyway to accomplish the day’s already horrid tasks? Your characters need to experience some of those little annoyances that can really add to the stress of everyday life…especially if a heroine is starting a new job as a governess to seven wild children.
Set an emotional time bomb. At one time or another, everyone has swallowed back their real feelings and plastered on a smile when all they wanted to do was scream their reasons as to why they were right, but they’re an adult and cannot act like a two year old. The mature action would be to deal with those emotions and diffuse the emotional bomb, but what if our heroine is so stressed that she feels like she can’t address the problem even in the quietness of her room or she might explode? Well…if she doesn’t deal with it, she is going to explode. It is just a matter of when/where it happens and who accidentally presses the wrong button. This can lead to some major problems in her relationships and branch the story off into a nice little subplot. For more on how to add depth through subplots, click here.
Raise the stakes again. This is similar to the first situation of adding stress to stress; however, raising the stakes can make those small problems lead to even bigger problems. After months of struggling to run the farm after his father’s death, our hero has finally found his rhythm, so it’s time to shake things up. What if his tractor breaks and he doesn’t have the means to fix it right away? Small problem, but if it doesn’t get repaired before the hailstorm, he will lose everything and his family will starve. Small problem turned BIG. For more on raising the stakes, click here.
Let them fail. Everyone enjoys a good story of a hero beating the odds, but what if we let them lose? This can lead to discouragement, a very real emotion for our characters that readers can relate to based on their own experiences. It may be as simple as failing to set the oven to the correct temperate and the cake falling or a bad grade on a test. Even though it’s a small problem to have a cake fall, it helps to slowly build tension/emotion.
Whatever little problems you choose, the important thing is to use their negative situations to push them towards the climax and the redeeming moment where all their sacrifices were worth it or they finally understand why they had to endure failure after failure before they could succeed.
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