Write High-Stakes Tension: Are you too close to your characters?

Are you too close to your characters?

You’ve engendered, given traits, and brought your characters to life on the page. It’s not surprising that writers find themselves attached to their characters and are afraid of putting them into complicated situations.

If you’ve created complex and compelling enough characters they will falter and they will hit obstacles. You’re writing a book not a description of the type of friend you’d like.

Think of the most memorable characters in fiction. Jay Gatsby. Elizabeth Bennett. Holden Caulfield. Lisbeth Salander. None of them are perfect. Perfect characters are 2D and forgettable.

It’s a writer’s job to depict compound problems and introduce character suffering. With complexity comes reader investment in the way they overcome obstacles. When characters are treated too nicely the story moves along just skimming the surface instead of plunging into deeper meaning. A deeper investment in the outcome of character drama will produce high-stakes tension for readers.

Tip for the revision process: “You not only don’t have to treat your characters nicely, in revision you should look for ways to make the obstacles bigger, the complications seemingly endless, and their suffering worse. Avoid the temptation to rescue your characters.” Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, by Elizabeth Lyon  

Similar Posts:

Write What You Know Or Stretch Your Imagination?

On Characters: From Inception to Conclusion

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

10 thoughts on “Write High-Stakes Tension: Are you too close to your characters?

  1. Great post! I’ve read too many books where it is clear that the author is in love with a particular character and never puts them through any real hardship. Perhaps this speaks to some sadistic tendency in me, but I prefer by far to see a character I love going through so many trials you’d think they’d claim double jeopardy!


What do you think? I love hearing from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: