How many “good” characters do you have in your book? People who want to do the right thing, and who’d say they don’t try to hurt others. Pick someone important, either a protagonist or an important secondary character if your main character’s happily evil. Let’s see if their actions back up their words! Imagine them in the following scenario:
They come across a boy on the road who’s seriously injured. He begs them to fetch help from nearby. Would your character assist them or just walk on? Probably the latter. They might say afterwards that they were just doing the right thing, but they’d be hard pressed not to feel pleased with themselves. But now, let’s tweak things a bit.
Your character’s received a prophecy. They’ll meet an injured boy on the road, who’ll beg for assistance. If they ignore them, the boy will die. But if they help them, your character will sustain a terrible injury soon afterwards. What would happen now?
It’s easy to be “good” when the result is a win/win. But now, there are personal stakes involved. Would they still be eager to help, or would they suddenly be more calculating? They don’t know this child, so they might reason they owe them nothing. But even so, could they really walk past and ignore their suffering?
Choices with consequences can supercharge the tension in a story, especially if there’s something to lose with both options. Perhaps the boy’s injured because he was attacked, and your character ends up being framed for their murder. Or maybe they do help, which leads to them falling and breaking both their legs. What if they’d been on their way to fight to the death in a trial by combat, to “prove” the innocence of their lover?
Is everything too easy for your characters? If so, can you come up with any difficult choices for them? And if so, will they (and their companions!) still think they’re good after they’ve chosen? The odds might be stacked against them either way, but it can make for some great reading.
Can you think of any examples from published fiction? (Other than Sophie’s Choice. That answer’s too easy.) Comment below or email me to let me know!