Writers who write timeless, compelling fiction tend to be somewhat sadistic when it comes to their main characters. Horrible trauma follows horrible trauma, and as readers, we can’t get enough. We must find out what happens.
Think about classics like Romeo and Juliet. Poor Juliet has fallen in love only to have her parents hate her lover’s family, her husband kills her cousin, her husband is banished, her father plans her wedding to someone she doesn’t know, she’s given a poison to fake her death, and allows herself to be buried alive! This is a great story!
If you want a more contemporary example, think of Katniss in the Hunger Games. Let’s see: her family is starving, but she’s not legally allowed to hunt and feed them, her father is dead, her mother is depressed, her little sister gets chosen to compete in the Games which will surely kill her, and she must go. The only way to survive is to fake a relationship with a boy she doesn’t much like and lose the boy she loves. Then, when we think it can’t get worse, it does. And then it gets even worse!
Or think of Harry Potter – poor kid. His parents are dead, he lives with an abusive aunt and uncle, the most terrifying wizard of all time is after him, he has teachers who hate him, and the fate of the ENTIRE Wizarding world is on his teenage shoulders.
And as a reader, what do you do? You KEEP reading!!
Let’s apply this sadistic streak to your main character. It’s time to get mean!
Get out a piece of paper and list all the horrible aspects of your main character’s life. How many do you have? Is it enough? What else can you add to the existing circumstances of your character’s life to make it really awful?
Now, get even meaner. Add to your list. Write down horrible situations you could put your character in. Think its bad enough now? Keep going. Make it worse. If, like Juliet and Katniss, your character is not yet agreeing to be buried alive or die to get out of the situation, it’s not bad enough.
Once you’ve got a good list of horrible tragedy to heap upon your main character, start heaping. Choose one awful situation and write it up. Then, post it in the forums. Let’s see who can get the meanest!