The challenges we need

Fiction can fall flat for all kinds of reason. One major factor in such a failure can be that we’re getting plot wrong, as the writer, because we aren’t giving our characters the challenges they NEED to grow and develop.

As human beings, I think that acknowledging that we grow only through challenge–that is discomfort, pain, and conflict of some sort or other (if it only be internal)– is one thing. To embrace or surrender to that truth is another.

This is important when it comes to crafting engaging, dynamic, realistic, and relatable characters.

  • We all fear different things, but none of us like confronting our fears.
  • Some of us are more overtly confident than others when facing challenges.
  • The challenges we need, or the fears we need to face, may or not be the ones we would CHOOSE to face. This holds true for our characters as well.

Readers will fall in love with and will root for characters they see striving to face their challenges courageous. This doesn’t mean they will always be courageous. And it doesn’t mean the challenge has to be momentous in any given chapter.

A seemingly small challenge can feel, and truly be significant, for certain people or characters in certain situations. And if your readers have a window into WHY that is, it’s a golden scenario that can be really impactful.

I’m reminded of a great episode of M*A*S*H where everyone gets SUPER made a snooty, sarcastic Major Winchester because he won’t share the chocolate he got sent from home. It turns out that:

  • He gave the chocolate to the orphanage
  • That’s why he won’t (can’t) share it
  • He doesn’t tell ANYONE he did this.

This is no life or death scenario… and you see a LOT of those on (M*A*S*H). But given who you as a viewer know Charles is, it’s beautiful. It’s a meaningful, generous gesture, especially from him, and the fact that he tells no one? It shows you he is a better man than he appears to be, and it’s a real moral victory for him.

As a Catholic, I find that the more I pray and the more I strive to surrender to God’s plan for life, I find that He has sent, and continues to send ME, the challenges I need to become the person He created me to be. They don’t happen to be the challenges I would choose. But they’re the challenges I need. Thank God for it!

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