Something I’ve been struggling with lately is finding the right balance for creating tension by making things difficult for my characters.
It may have something to do with other stress I have going on in my life and in the world, but I’ve lately had real difficulty reading books in which characters make poor choices. I’ve been reading a series that I enjoy, but it’s sometimes difficult to get through because the characters just keep making bad choices that get them into more trouble. I spend a lot of the time I’m reading going “No! Don’t trust him!” or “Arrghh! You know better than to do that!” I sometimes even have to put the book down and walk away for a little while (which, I suppose, is a good sign that I’m emotionally invested).
I seem to have overcorrected in my own writing. The feedback I got from my agent on a book I’ve been working on is that there’s no tension because the characters never fail. If they come up with a theory, it’s proven correct. If they try something, it works. Looking back at it, I can see that, and I can tell I was writing most of it during the spring when I was going through all that medical stress. Maybe trying to write a book during all that was a bad idea. Or maybe I should give up on traditional publication with this story and publish it as something to read when you can’t deal with stress. A publisher wouldn’t be interested as-is, but there might be enough readers who just want a fun read to relax with.
What I need to find is a happy medium, where the heroes can make good choices that don’t make me groan out loud but still be wrong and still fail. That means the villains need to be smarter and more active or the heroes can be missing key bits of information. That’s still a bit stressful to me because institutional injustice, where the bad guys have all the power, is one of those things I find it hard to read/watch. But I’d rather have my characters up against someone who has too much power and that causes their efforts to fail than have my characters make dumb choices. If they trust the wrong person, it should be someone even the reader thinks they should have trusted. I don’t want readers going “No! Don’t do that, you idiot! Can’t you see he’s up to no good?”
I’m in a better place emotionally and medically right now, so maybe a lot of the problem will be taken care of going forward. I’ll just need to take a step back before I can work on fixing that book. And in the meantime, I can work on something else.