The Importance of Hurting the Protagonist & How to do it

Nobody wants to read the story of a person who gets everything they want, whenever they want without negative consequences or conflicts along the way. Why not? Cause there’s no story there. Story is about conflict. We read to learn more about situations we might find ourselves in one day. To see how others deal with problems we might face ourself (in our own way) this very minute. So your job as writer is to torture your protagonist. Make life difficult for him, make him work for everything he wants (even if it’s just a glass of water).

Ways of hurting your protagonist

  • Don’t allow him to admit anything (even to himself) unless he absolutely has to.
  • Give him secrets, but don’t allow him to keep them.
  • The solution that solves problem A, in fact (c0-) creates problem B.
  • Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
  • Have him bet a penny but end up risking his house to win back his increasing losses.
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch, unless it’s poisoned.
  • Characters lie, a lot.
  • Escalating danger becomes clearer and, presently and urgent.
  • The villain has good sides too.
  • Expose his flaws, his personal demons and his insecurities.

The worst way to hurt someone

The worst pain comes from humiliation, embarrassment. Why? Not only did you fuck up, you were caught fucking up. It’s out there, it’s witnessed, it’s public. There’s no way to cover it up or hide it. Social pain lingers for years. This kind of pain can trigger significant change and growth.

Cron, L. (2012) Wired for story: the writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence.