Making Bad Things Happen to Good Characters

This post was first published in August 2015, and updated in April 2019.

Kudos to LycoRogue for inspiring it.

Do you have a hard time hurting your characters?

Maybe it’s pretty easy with some of them. (For me, villains are fair game, and Woobies seem to invite a fair amount of suffering.)

But chances are, you’ve either got characters who you hate to hurt, or you struggle to let anyone get seriously hurt – whether that’s physically or emotionally.

And yet, as a writer, there are going to be times when you need to cause your characters pain.

They need to fail. They need to be scared, upset, hurt, injured.

Because if the stakes don’t feel real, if all the conflict in your novel is easily and painlessly resolved, then readers just aren’t going to be as attached to the narrative as they should be.

Plus, you’ll miss out on handy opportunities to complicate the plot. Maybe your protagonist is sailing through every challenge with ease … but a broken leg will slow him down (and perhaps move him along his character arc of becoming less stubbornly self-reliant).

It’s one thing to know all this.

It’s quite another to bring yourself to cause your characters actual harm.

Let’s deal first with a few key worries:


Five Different Approaches to Developing Characters

Whether you consider plot to be more important than character or you believe they’re just two sides of the same coin, it’s clear that character matters.

Readers want characters who are engaging and interesting: characters who seem real. Novelists often talk about these as “three dimensional” characters – ones that are fully developed, rather than being little more than a physical description and maybe an interesting quirk.

At some point during the writing process, you need to develop your characters. You need more than just a name and a note about their hair colour or favourite food: you need characters who have a certain depth to them.

There are lots of different techniques that authors can use to develop characters – either before they begin on a story, or during the process of writing (or even rewriting) that story.

But whatever method you use, there’s one important thing you should establish as early on as possible: (more…)


I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children. Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

Start Here

If you’re new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:

Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing? 

The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)

What to Do When Your Writing Goals Seem a Long Way Off

If you’d like more suggestions, head to the “Start Here” page:

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis before the others.

You can buy or sample them on your local Amazon, or read all three FREE in Kindle Unlimited.