I recently read a great short story with a great premise and a great character and when I was done, I just wasn’t satisfied at all.
Because, while the conflict was there, and it was pretty rough, things kinda just worked out for the character. She never had to take a hard stance. She never really suffered. And so her victory was kinda boring.
It’s a weird thing, as a reader you like a character, you want them to succeed, you even might get mad at the author if they torture them too much. But you’ll probably like the story alot more if they do. Just look at the popularity of George RR Martin’s books.
It’s even weirder for the writer though, because you don’t just like your character. You love them. They are your baby, a reflection of yourself, and this completely alien unique entity all at once and all their glorious faults and failings just make you want to wrap them up and protect them from this hellscape you dropped them into.
But they’re not your baby and it’s not your job to protect them. It’s your job to toughen them up to the task at hand and if you don’t, your readers will resent their victory.
I ran into this first hand with one of my characters. Although she’d suffered, she was a sensitive soul and I didn’t want to hurt her too much. I wanted to preserve her dignity and show that she’d overcome it. Because she moved past it, though, the readers saw it as a non-issue.
So I had to show her damage, because, in the long run, the damage justified the hard choices she had to make, the mistakes she floundered through, and made her victory at the end something that she’d earned through her suffering.
Fiction is not real life, Thank God, but it does act as a mirror. If Katniss can survive tracker jacker venom, you can survive a tooth extraction. If Buffy can go on after killing Angel, you can survive breaking up with your boyfriend. The suffering and perseverance of our favorite characters inspires us to be strong and over come the obstacles in our life.
So if things are going too easy for your character, it might be time to lop off a limb or kill their girlfriend. Your readers might hate you for it, but they’ll love your character and your story so much more.