More Problems, Better Books: Humanizing Your Story

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Try to think of a story, a good one, where the main character makes no mistakes and nothing challenges them. Odds are, you can’t think of one. That’s because the best stories, the ones we love, the ones that survive through time, feature the very human endeavor of overcoming problems. The most exciting and loved books often have the best problems ever captured on the page.

Read your stories and see if there are any parts that bore you, especially if it’s a novel. If there are lulls, could the reason be you’re not giving your characters enough of a problem? We, the readers, are not here to watch your protagonist brush her teeth. Put her in the middle of a problem and let us watch her fight her way out.

I have fallen prey to this many times. I play it safe, waiting with my characters for life to happen. But, that’s not how it works. You have to let go of your characters’ hands and put them through trials and tribulations.

To err is human

No one is perfect. Hopefully your characters aren’t either. Let them make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences. We all had to do it in our own lives and they have to as well. This is what will make your character relatable and your story exciting to the reader.

Your story needs a problem and making mistakes causes problems. In fact, barring a natural event, aren’t most of the problems we experience caused by our mistakes? We either have to deal with the situations we create, or we have to deal with the situations others create for us. Which leads us to…

More humans, more problems

I believe this is where stories start getting some grit. Put your character in bad situations created by other people. Put them through war, figuratively or literally. There’s no better way to see what someone is made of than pitting them against their fellow man, and setting up dire circumstances we humans weave for ourselves.

Give your characters emotion. Let them, and let yourself, react to the world around them emotionally. Let them take action, make mistakes, and react based on their emotions. One of the reason your readers are showing up to watch the world you create is because they want to see people and life in another world. So, give it to them.

A good rule of thumb as you try to muddle up your prose with ill happenings is if you, the writer, aren’t reacting emotionally, your reader won’t either. If the writer is bored, the reader is bored.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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