Writing fiction is great. It’s the best catharsis around. You get to create characters, make them up anyway you want, and then do absolutely horrible things to them. I’m not being negative. That’s what most storytelling is: characters overcoming obstacles and adversity. And hopefully they will grow and develop along the way, some for better and others for worse.
Some writers shy away from the horribleness. I remember a tweet from a fellow blogger some time ago, where they said, “I’m sorry for my protagonist, I’m going to have to do all these bad things to you.” For others, it’s not such a problem. There’s no real right way to do this, and maybe sometimes it’s good to “curb your enthusiasm,” so to speak. Too many setbacks for your characters may turn off the audience. For myself, I tend to come from the Chuck Palahniuk School of Embracing The Darkness. So, maybe I enjoy all this a little too much. But whatever you call it (horribleness, setbacks, adversity), your characters must experience it, sometimes a lot of it, and it must hold some kind of truth that you are wanting to convey. As it turns out, some truths are naturally darker than others.
Your protagonist must always seem to be flying in the face of adversity. That’s what storytelling is, at least with most popular fiction. It’s up to you how it all ends . You can have him/her lose in the end, like in the original Rocky, or you can have them win triumphantly like in all the other Rocky films that followed. But either way, it always has to be a hard road until you get to that point of fruition. And there always has to be a balance between adversity, character growth, and levity.
The trick is making the obstacles believable. You don’t want it to look like you just threw something in there. The story elements must all be organic. If the characters are developed properly, once you set it all in motion the characters will tell you what they will do next, what they will say next. That way, all of their motivations will be believable and true. Character development is probably more important than outlining the story/plot when it comes to shaping the actual story. Then by putting in obstacles, you end up stringing everybody along, including the characters and your audience (in a good way). You will even need to break your own heart, since in order to fully write any powerful scene, you will need to feel what the character is feeling. But I guess that’s the rush, that’s why we do this.
It all starts with creating a character, and setting events in motion. So, everybody go out and do horrible things. Fictionally speaking, of course.