By Marion Crook for  September 23, 2016

The Problem must Matter


Most writers want to engage their readers, have the readers worry about the characters and feel relieved when danger is overcome. That emotional involvement will happen only if the readers care about the character and that happens if we, the writers, have created a character appealing enough to tug at the readers’ hearts. We work hard to create such characters–but it’s not enough.

Jessie Mullins made an important point in her blog of July 28, 2016. A story needs real stakes. It’s not as easy as one might think to put your beloved character into danger. I am protective of my character and have to deliberately thrust him or her into peril. But it’s my character’s tussle with danger that gives impetus and importance to the story.

The protagonist, no matter how emotionally attuned the readers are to him or her, needs to have a problem. What does he or she want? What is standing in the way?  If the problem is personal, important, seemingly impossible to solve, and contains a time in which it must happen, chances are the story will have tension and excitement. The problem doesn’t have to be earthshaking to be important to character: Leaving home is important if the character is afraid she may never return. Being stuck in an elevator is important if his only chance at an Olympic gold is in half an hour. This is where writers ramp up their imaginations. We put ourselves into the skin of our characters and find what threatens them in their world. The stakes must matter to that character. If we have created a character that engages readers, then the quest will seem important to them.

Jayleen, my protagonist in Cutting it Close goes through the heartache of injury to her horse. I emphasized so much with Jayleen that I cried when the Jessie, her horse’s, life was in jeopardy. As the author, I could pull her back from the brink, but it’s amazing how much I worried about that horse.

When your characters are tested by danger or threatened by adverse circumstances, it gives them a chance to grow emotionally and spiritually. This, while not always necessary to the plot, is necessary to reader satisfaction. And as writers, we eat and drink reader satisfaction.

Sept 23, 16

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed