One of my favorite musicians once admitted to sabotaging relationships because it kept things fresh, and helped him write better music. I never understood it with real people, but the idea is perfect for not-so-real people.
My main character could be walking along and then, bam! The surprise is on him. (Or her in some cases.) Let’s see him get out of that one.
Often, I try to trick myself. You know, because the character isn’t a real person. They don’t care if I throw a bus at them. (Though a bus would be a bit absurd in fantasy lit.)
Sometimes I’ll write something and think “nah, that was too easy,” so I double back and mess it up a bit. Other times, because you have to keep people guessing, I’ll write the expected danger out of the moment. Then, thirty seconds later, I’ll devise something even worse than the original.
That builds expectation and keeps people guessing.
Which is more gripping for the plot?
- A hero walks down the street, and some ruffians come at him. They fight. The hero could win or lose here.
- The same hero walks past some ruffians who look mean, but mostly ignore him. At the end of the street, as the hero turns the corner, he takes a board to the face and the ruffians show up to clean his pockets.
Take away the obvious answer of throwing violence at a character. Let’s say you have two detectives, they’re partners. They’re in the car on a stakeout and one guy brought along a tuna sandwich. Detective #2 just loses it because of the smell. Detective #1 had no idea it was going to be an issue at all, but suddenly he’s in conflict.
Sometimes it’s the most mundane of things that trip people up. A mis-dialed number on a phone, a misspoken word, a tuna sandwich in a break room. Sorry, that last unfolded in front of me at the office this week.
Sabotage is your friend, but don’t overdo it. Everything in moderation, and all that.