At least not in storytelling it isn’t. If you’ve read any of his books or attended any of his workshops, you know this is a big point of Donald Maass. How can you make it worse?
Part of our job as writers is to torture our poor protagonists and often their friends and family as well. Sometimes we hesitate to take our stories to the level it needs to be because we like our protagonists. Why let them suffer so much?
Because it doesn’t make for a good story. Sorry, that’s the rub.
We like stories because we like to see conflict overcome. Triumph attained. Some kind of new understanding gleaned. In my opinion this is because we hope those issues in our own lives will come to some kind of catharsis in our lives or just a resolution that makes sense. So it’s relieving to read about others’ troubles and trials because typically stories have a resolution, whereas our lives may continue on troubled for some time.
That’s why what our protagonist is after should be harder and harder to attain the further we get into our story. Something should keep getting in their way, and each time something does it should make things worse.
Since hearing the advice, how can you make it worse for your character, I’ve come to new ideas I’m not sure I would have come up with otherwise. But the other side of that is remembering, death is not the worst thing. For our main characters, death must be off the table—as a result, not as a fear.
Firstly, if your protagonist dies, end of story—unless of course you’re doing some freaky ghost realm back and forth story. But when I say death, I mean no longer available to act in your story. Also, death can often merciful for a character. They can no longer be tortured, whether physically or mentally, by something.
When we’re crafting story, remember death is not the worst thing.
Do you torture your poor protagonists? Do you try and apply the “how can I make it worse” principle? Or has this philosophy helped spark any new ideas for your story? Have you read any Donald Maass or listened to him? Anything you would add?