Or, as I call it, causing ~drama~
The key that keeps readers interested in your story is conflict. If nothing is at stake, then there is not much to see. So, here are a few general tips to cause some ripples in the ponds of your characters’ lives.
“Prioritizing”: Your character has two main motives that they have been working towards, but they end up in a situation where they have to sacrifice one to save the other. Depending on how easy or hard the choice is, this range from “disappointing” to “devastating” in the sacrifice.
Character Flaws: As I talked about in my cornerstones post, every character should have a flaw. Flaws are flaws and not strengths for a reason- they get in the way. Have your character have a moment of weakness, where they lose their values and give in to temptation or get carried away.
In addition: Even without their key flaws, characters can sometimes just… be wrong. Maybe they miscalculated. Maybe they misunderstood. Maybe they made the wrong guess. They did what everyone does: They Done Messed Up, and now they have to deal with the result.
Liar, Liar: Someone is lying, or even keeping secrets, and now, it’s causing problems. They can’t go forward without the truth, or worse, they are making mistakes due to a warped perception of the situation.
Draw backs: Let the good things come at a cost. One key rule for worlds with magic or superpowers is that all power should come at cost- equal to or greater than the power itself.
“Because I Said So”: Don’t forget, there are other characters in your story, and even if they are on the protagonist’s own side, they are not always going to just merrily go along with whatever the protagonist said. Maybe they disagree. Maybe they are powerful enough to get in the protagonist’s way, and maybe it’s that important to them that they try. If fighting an enemy is hard, fighting a friend is harder.
Take It Back: Your character makes a decision that seems right at the time. Maybe it was the obvious choice, or maybe it was taking a risk. But uh-oh…now there are unforeseen consequences.
Or, the opposite…
Decisions, Decisions: Maybe your character has to make a decision where there is not an immediately obvious choice. Make sure that both/all the options have both positive and negative possible or certain outcomes. There is no obvious right or wrong choice. Bonus, it’s funny to watch the fandom debate it later.
Strip Them Down: Remove your character’s greatest strength. For whatever reason, your character’s most valuable asset is not available, and now, they have to live without it. Bonus mode- it would be really, really helpful if they had it right now!
Or, do the opposite…
Boss Fight: Maybe, instead of your protagonist getting weaker, it’s your antagonist that gets stronger. Strengthen the opposition and see if your characters can adapt to survive, or if they lack what it takes.
Change of Plan: The rules of the game have changed. This can mean different things depending on your story. They could be literal rules, or more general. Think Hunger Games- did I say two tributes? I meant one, after all. Fight to the death now, please.
Amplify the Emotions: … And the results that come with. People do crazy things in the heat of the moment. You can’t think straight when all you can do is feel. Blinded by anger, sadness, or even joy, your character makes a bad choice.
*Pile It On: You know what a full plate needs? Even more stuff. Your character is already juggling, trying to balance a variety of responsibilities. So add one more ball. Do they crash and burn immediately? Does it take a while? Do they succeed? Any which way, the stress is high.
*Note: this one can be difficult on the author, too. Make sure that with all these plot lines, you’re not losing track, yourself.
“Murphy’s Law”: Simply stated, this is a plot tool that says, “whatever can go wrong, will.” I’m just going to say right away… be careful with this one. It’s really frustrating for your audience to watch the characters fail or lose or face misfortune over and over and over again. It makes it feel like nothing will ever come out of rooting for them, so you may as well give up now. Murphy’s Law can be great in the proper proportions, please, let your characters have some victories, or there’s no point to it.
And hey, don’t forget about your inner conflicts. You never know when those are going to have the opportunity to cause trouble.
Give ‘em hell, kids!*
***disclaimer: you do not have to be a kid to give them hell.