How to Figure Out the Worst Thing That Can Happen to Your Character

This week’s video examines the advice to “think of the worst thing that can happen to your character, then make it worse.”

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Video Transcript:

Writers are always being told to think of the worst thing that could happen to their characters—and then to make it worse. Being something of a literalist, the first time I heard that, my original thought was something like, The worst thing? You mean like kill him? With maybe a few interpretative exceptions, death is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to any of us. But if every author took that advice literally, every story would have to end abruptly with the death of its main character. Something tells me that’s not quite what the pundits had in mind with this line of advice.

So what did they have in mind? Ultimately, “the worst thing” that can happen has to be subjective—both to the character and to his situation. Subjecting your character to the worst thing is more about finding his specific weakness and twisting the knife in it. Maybe the worst thing that could happen to your character is death. Maybe it’s the equally extreme death of a loved one. But it could also be something much smaller, such as a lost pet, a bad grade, a torn wedding dress, no donuts on top of the fridge, you name it.

The point of this exercise is not only to up the stakes and create conflict, but more importantly to generate character growth and advance his personal arc in the story. The worst thing that could happen to him is going to depend on his needs and desires within the story and the personal misconceptions and weaknesses that are holding him back.

For example, if your character is about to propose marriage to the woman he loves, his worst thing might be her discovery of a secret in his past. Not only will this be an obstacle between him and what he wants, it should also, optimally, force him to face that secret and move forward toward overcoming the major character flaw that’s holding him back. So, really, the worst thing is actually the best thing.


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Originally posted on Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors


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