|Photo credit: amboo who? on Flickr|
Let's face it — very rarely do we as readers or writers want our characters to lose, particularly when that character is the protagonist or otherwise well liked. But allowing our characters to fail time and time again is an essential part of both plot progression and character development that writers should be careful not to overlook.
What makes character failures so important, you ask? Let's take a look at the various advantages of allowing your character to lose:
- Raise the stakes. One of the easiest ways to quickly (and dramatically) raise the stakes in your story is to allow your characters to fail. For example, not only do Faramir and his men lose the battle at Osgiliath, forcing them to retreat to Minas Tirith, but when they attempt to retake the fortress he is severely wounded and most of his men are slaughtered, leaving Minas Tirith with less soldiers, a crazy, cowardly leader and another impending battle that they are sure to lose (The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien).
- Test your character. Failures reveal another side of our characters — it tests their strength (physical, emotional and mental), their determination and the nature of their character. Will your protagonist crumble under pressure? How does he handle failure — does it make him angry? Hopeless? More determined to succeed? Who will buckle under the pressure first? These are questions that can only be answered when your characters face failures.
- Emphasize the victory. The biggest and best victories are the ones that the characters have earned by persevering through the toughest odds. Victories handed to your characters on a silver platter are worthless — as they say, nothing worth having comes easily, and your character victories should be no different.
These are just a few advantages of allowing your characters to lose, but now I'd like to hear from you — do you allow your characters to fail often? What other advantages do characters failures have?