We all know our heroes have to encounter problems along their path–obstacles, detours, crises. But sometimes we forget that some of those problems, sometimes the most important, have to be created by the hero herself.
Sure, you can throw all sorts of stuff at your hero from outside–betrayal from a best friend, a parent who holds the reins too tightly, even a stick of Acme dynamite from some random bad guy. And your hero can fight through these obstacles, conquer them, and march through to the other side. Victorious. Strong.
And not so real.
Remember that flaw? The big character one with which all our heroes are supposed to come equipped? It’s important. It’s not enough for a flaw to be part of how a character thinks, or that shows up in the words he says. We need to show this flaw in action. We need to show this flaw making things worse for the hero. Partially because we all have those kinds of flaws, and we’re trying to create heroes that feel, at least a bit, like someone we could meet on the street. (Okay, more interesting, more fun, more tragic, but…just a little like us.) If you don’t believe me, go to 4:15 in this video and listen to Stan Lee. You’re not going to argue with Stan Lee, are you?
There’s more, though. The other reason we need to see this flaw in action is that it sets up our hero for change. Growth. That other all-important factor in a story our readers can relate to. If your hero starts out perfect, or even just perfect in action, where are they headed? To an ending in which they’re exactly the same as they started out. Why change when you don’t need to? Why change when your behavior keeps you safe and lets you easily tackle anything from an irritating fly to a massive avalanche?
BUT…if your hero is causing problems for himself–if he’s tripping on his own straggly hem, so to speak–then he’s got an important path to follow. He needs to gain strength, access his intelligence and imagination, step up to the plate. Otherwise, he’s going to stay stuck in the same story, with the same problems. You know the saying, you can’t run away from your problems? Just as true in fiction as in real life–only in fiction, you end up with a boring story as well as an unhappy person.
So, as you’re setting out to create those obstacles, the ones that add tension and excitement to your storyline, keep your hero up front in your planning. Yes, let the locusts swarm, let the bad guys drop the bombs. But don’t be satisfied with just letting things happen to your hero. Make sure she makes things–bad things–happen as well.