When Donald Trump ran for election the first time, in 2016, he was heard saying that he got his start when he borrowed a half million dollars from his father to start a business. He went on to say that he created a successful business and paid back that loan in something like six months. He was very proud of this feat and used it as an example of what good business sense he has, which he claimed qualified him to run the country. My response to his claim was to think to myself, ‘Yeah, if someone loaned me a half million dollars, I bet I could create a successful business, too.’
Everything I have ever done in my life, I have done on my own. There has never been anyone who would extend me a loan, or support me in my efforts. I’ve had a lot of failures, like the landscaping business I tried to start and got taken to the cleaners by my very first customer, leaving me in debt on the endeavor, but I picked myself up and tried again. Now, I have created a small independent press and I offer author services through WordCrafter. It’s small and I do it all online, out of my home. To me, that is more of an achivement than former President Trump’s multi-million dollar corporation, because I didn’t have any help in getting where I am today. I struggled to overcome all obstacle that stood in my way, and I built my business a little at a time, without loans or other help from anyone. To me there is no real story in what Trump did, but the road to success for me has been paved with obstacles and setbacks to overcome. He may be a lot richer than I am, but my story is ever so much more interesting.
Several years ago, one of the nurses that I worked with came up to me and told me how happy she was to learn that I had continued writing after my son died. She said that it meant that I was healing. The truth was, after Mike died, I had to write. I had so much grief boiling inside me that my only recourse was to write and let it all flow out. After Mike died, writing was what helped me keep my sanity. I wrote poetry. I wrote stories about Mike. I wrote and delivered his eulogy. More than likely none of it will ever be published, but the stuff I wrote during that time was powerful. If I read it now, it still brings tears to my eyes.
The negative emotions- grief, sadness, hate, anger – are all powerful emotions and to write a story that stirs those emotions is to draw your reader into the story and make them care. The positive emotions like love or triumph are powerful, as well, but they are made more powerful if the character has to struggle to achieve them. If the character is happy when the story begins, and remains happy throughout, then it’s really no big deal when he is happy at the end. But, if the character has longed for happiness, struggled to overcome the obstacles that prevent him from being happy, and the reader has been right there feeling his frustration and sorrow along the way, then the reader will be elated when, at the end, the character accomplishes his goal and achieves the ever sought after happiness. The negative emotions are what makes the positive ones that much stronger. In life, happiness is fleeting, easily forgotten as we move on to the next goal, but the negative emotions are always there, just below the surface, waiting to be called forth. They don’t go away. I miss my son now just as much as I did the day he died, and all I have to do is think about him for the tears to start to flow, even eleven years later. The negative emotions don’t fade away, like the positive seem to.
Adversity creates conflict, and conflict is why we keep reading. We have to see how the character is going to overcome whatever obstacles are placed in his way. We must read on to find out who wins the battle, to learn if our character will be triumphant, or if he will be ruined for life. Adversity, or conflict, is the key to writing a good story. Going through the characters struggles with them makes their revenge sweeter, their triumphs more elating, and their love so much stronger. Adversity is what makes us care about the characters.
So, make things hard for your characters no matter what genre you write. Beat them up, make them walk over hot coals, climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, or dive to the ocean’s depths to get the girl, find the treasure, win the race, or achieve self-discoveries. And just when they are at the lowest point they have ever been at, and it seems that there is no way to come out ahead, throw a burning building in their path, raise the stakes, throw in a ticking time bomb. Don’t make it easy for them. If a good looking guy walks into the bar and sweeps the girl off her feet without even blinking and there is no one to object, no one will care if they live happily ever after or not. When the reader is aware of the price that has been paid to achieve the goal, then your readers will care so much more. Give your characters conflict and adversity. They’ll thank you for it later, and so will your readers.
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