Hard choices. That’s what it comes down to for your protagonist.
Someone in my old writing group put it very succinctly: each scene should force the protagonist so they have no choice but to go with the option that makes things harder for them.
If things were easy for your protagonist and everything went right for them, it wouldn’t be much of a story, would it? We’d be bored silly.
It all stems from the necessary key word: conflict. Something must be opposing them reaching their goal.
This doesn’t mean it’s someone or something physically blocking them, although that is one option. It could be something out of nature, like a great white shark, a hurricane or a killer virus, or something from the grand scheme of the universe, like time, fear or silence.
One of the great things about conflict is there are countless ways to present it. It comes in all forms, but it really boils down to something in the scene (as well as the overall story) preventing your protagonist from moving things forward.
Taking it one step further, not only do you have to make sure they do, but they have to be the one doing it. Anything else is a cheat, and totally negates their development as a character. Imagine if Dumbledore said, “Here’s a step-by-step list of what you have to do, Harry.” The mentor figure is there to guide the protagonist down the right path, not take the path for them.
The protagonist has to endure all of these conflicts in order to not only accomplish their goal, but grow or change from what they were when we first met them.
So go ahead and put ’em through the ringer. It’s the way it must be.
-I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Henry Sheppard, aka Adelaide Screenwriter. Check it out here.