One of my favorite musicians once admitted to sabotaging relationships because it kept things fresh, and helped him write better music. I never felt that was a good idea for real people, but for fictional characters, it may be perfect.
My main character could be walking along and then, bam, surprise!
“Let’s see him get out of that one!”
I often 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 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, he turns the corner and takes a board to the face. That’s when the ruffians show up to clean out his pockets.
Take away the violent option for a minute.
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 loses his mind because of the smell. Detective #1 had no idea it was going to be an issue at all, but suddenly he’s in a conflict.
Sometimes it’s the most mundane of things that trip people up. It could be as simple as a misdialed number on a phone, a misspoken word, or a tuna sandwich in a break room*.
Sabotage is your friend, but don’t overdo it. “Everything in moderation,” and all that.
I don’t want to over-sell this example, but I watched this happen earlier this week. Certain smells tend to be offensive, of course, but I have never seen people so “up in arms” about what someone else was eating for lunch.