With a title like this, you are probably going to expect me to write about real life intrusions on writing. Nope. I mean I want to write about the ups and downs the characters face when they are going through your adventure.
It is really tempting to write only nasty things at the start of the book, and then they finally get to the turning point and from then on, everything goes their way. Oh is it tempting to do that, but oh so boring to read. Life isn’t like that. Life mixes it up, you have a good morning, other than that part where your boss yells at you for something that Jane did. But hey, you still got that great parking spot and the cutie at the coffee shop remembers you now. Not only that, but today the cafeteria is serving your favorite lunch and you still have that coupon you earned for completing that other project. Not that you get out of having to clean up Jane’s mess, and she’s probably not going to own up to the fact that she’s responsible so you trudge on.
The same kind of thing should happen to your characters. So the Big Bad has figured out that your MC is the one who could bring the Evil Plot to a screeching halt and has decided to decimate her village in the hopes that she’ll be there to die in the destruction. Of course not, MC was off in the mountains pouting about the fact that the boy she liked chose to ask her rival to the fall dance. Obviously your MC can’t be there for the destruction, it would be a very short book if she were. So now she’s all alone in the world but at least the Big Bad isn’t looking for her. Now would be a great time to introduce the plucky sidekick to remind her that it isn’t so bad after all.
In the same way, when it comes time for the MC to start winning and start disrupting the Evil Plot, it can’t be all that easy for her. So she manages to sneak into the Big Bad’s castle, but no one bothered to give her a map to the LAB so she’s going to make a few wrong turns and have to deal with startled guards and servants who aren’t as stupid as she would like them to be. Even when she gets to face off against the Big Bad it can’t suddenly become too easy. After all the Big Bad has been learning about her too, and oh yeah, that cutie from her home village she thought had died, well no he’s there and either a hostage, or worse, working for the Big Bad willingly. He could be know just how to convince the MC that the Evil Plot isn’t so evil after all.
The whole point is to string your readers along getting them to alternately cheer and cringe for your MC. Which sounds like great advice, but it’s so hard to follow. Part of that is keeping the balance right. Again there is the tempting way to do it, and the better but harder way. The tempting way is to do a one for one exchange. For every bad thing that happens something good happens and we’re back to neutral, so I can throw the next bad thing at the MC now. Nope, that is just as boring as the Bad, Bad, Bad, Turning Point, Good, Good, Win scenario. There is no formula for getting the balance right. It depends on your story. How bad are the bads and how good are the goods? What tone are you going for? It even depends on the genre. A romance will have a different kind of balance than a hard boiled crime story.
I still struggle to keep this advice in mind when I’m writing. I have to remember that both the hero and the Big Bad are human (or whatever) and therefore fallible. The Big Bad isn’t going to be able to completely crush the Hero because that would be a short story. Nor is the Hero going to be expert in exactly the right way to defeat the Big Bad completely. Then there are the consequences of the adventure, but that’s another post.