2 Reasons Why You Must Make Your Characters Struggle

“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.” — Timothy Dalton

 

by grafter
by grafter

Recently, I read about people being intrigued with reading or writing books with characters traveling in time. Characters get to go back and right a wrong. Or prevent a future undesirable event.

So why would I say it’s important to make characters struggle if readers enjoy stories where characters can change bad outcomes?

Reason 1

If characters could go back or forward in time at will, they’d less likely learn from their mistakes and struggles. And why would they even try when they could always go back and redo what they didn’t like. Or go forward to prevent a disaster.

Characters who’ve risked nothing in the game of life do not attract readers. Click to tweet.

Even animal characters in children’s stories have struggles and lessons learned. Those three little pigs certainly did.

Image courtesy of Dr Joseph Valks at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Dr Joseph Valks at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Time travel authors know this. Characters in time travel books are usually allowed to time-travel only a limited number of times. And they still have obstacles and struggles in each time period. And sometimes what they accomplish is something different than what they set out to do.

I think the unique kind of struggles time travelers face makes these stories appealing.

Reason 2

I think many readers are attracted to books whose characters handle struggles similar to theirs. If nothing else, they take comfort that others deal with problems like their own.

We love the conflict between the hero and heroine in romances. But usually these two characters face other struggles as well.

by AuntLaya
by AuntLaya

In Marion Ueckemann’s Helsenki Sunrise, Marion shows in this delightful romance how God orchestrates the bad things that happen in our past into something beautiful. It depicts how we waste our precious time being bitter and missing out on what God has for us.

In my contemporary romance, Calculated Risk, Cisney can choose to be hassled by her father or stand up to him. As a reader, besides the romance between two opposites, I’d like to see how Cisney learns to respectfully stand up to her father. Especially in his trying to control her profession and who she marries.

As a reader, I want to grow in character from the books I read.

Readers grow when they learn how characters deal with their struggles. Click to tweet.

If Cisney in Calculated Risk is still accepting her father’s bullying by the end of the book, why would you be, or not be, satisfied?

How to Make Your Surly Character Likeable

“Well, the thing about great fictional characters from literature, and the reason that they’re constantly turned into characters in movies, is that they completely speak to what makes people human.” —Keira Knightley

Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have a surly character in my inspirational contemporary romance. Allie is ill-mannered because people and events have hurt her in the past and she’s had enough. She has much room for growth. How am I going to make readers care enough about her to read her story? 

Tweetable

  • Do you have a character who’s surly and might be disliked by your readers?
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So what am I to do?

  • Be true to my character’s position at the opening of my story. Allie is flawed. She’s quick to misjudge people.
  • Recognize, especially at the beginning, the times Allie is too harsh with little good to balance her disposition.
  • Give indications of the true person who lies beneath Allie’s current tack toward insolence.
  • Show Allie’s fears, hopes, and struggles.
  • Show a moment when Allie is vulnerable. Especially near the beginning.
  • Feed in bits of backstory as necessary to show why she acts as she does. When Allie is brusque, give a memory that makes her fear letting a person see her soft side.
  • Continue to give glimpses of Allie’s internal goodness as the story unfolds.
  • Make her able to do things by the end of the story that she isn’t able to do at the beginning. Allie will be able ask Jesus to come into her life. She’ll strive not to misjudge others. She’ll ask for forgiveness from others and forgive those who’ve hurt her.

Tweetable

  • How do I show my surly character’s internal goodness?
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    by cjhulin85
    by cjhulin85
  • Have Allie do something at the beginning of the story that shows she has redeeming qualities.
  • Give Allie thoughts and physical reactions to her wounds, dreams, hopes, and fears. Other characters may not recognize Allie’s deep emotions but her feelings will come across to the reader.
  • Show Allie what she sounds like to herself when she speaks harshly. At times, show her wanting to be better than a person who speaks like that.
  • Show moments in which Allie is honest about past events, her struggles and fears, and her hopes and dreams.

But what if she’s over-the-top surly for much of the story? I hope I can make Allie more likeable without resorting to these.recite-26912-292788037-188q2fb

  • Give your character a unique flaw that you play up so readers enjoy “hating” the character.
  • Give your character an enemy who is more unlikeable than your main character.

Tweetable

  • What traits are turn-offs that I should avoid giving my main characters?
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  • Bullying
  • Patronizing
  • Picking on weaker people
  • Using violence to get her way
  • Gaining pleasure from ruining others’ lives
  • Moaning about hardships
  • Holding lots of pity parties
  • Making wrong inferences and not allowing others to explain themselves
  • Gossiping to hurt others
  • Lying all the time

What do you use or have seen others use to make surly characters likeable?