What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?

Recently I’ve been running into this advice more and more often.   You ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen to your character?  And then you make that happen.

People love this!  They use this advice at every turn possible.  While not terrible advice, I don’t really agree with it.

I blame the snarky little girl in me that wants to retort with “Well…an asteroid could hit the planet and annihilate all life, and since this isn’t a sci-fi story, then there would be nothing else to tell.”   Really though, that’s a little much.

I know they don’t mean to completely destroy your character, making them plunge deeper into darkness without having any positive things.  Even if your character spirals into an abyss and dies there, you at least need to give them hope for something better.

But no, my problem with this age-old advice, is that it’s too expected.  As a reader (and perhaps this is magnified by also being a writer), I often think about what will happen next to the characters I’m reading about.  I’ll sit there and ponder, “how terrible would it be if this happened !”  And then, of course, it does happen, and it is the terrible!  Yet, it’s still predictable.

I will admit, sometimes it is best to throw the worst at your characters, but I think it’s vital to mix up the formula.  If your story needs some extra malevolence, try throwing in a twist for your characters.  They got the promotion and raise so they can afford the rent (finally)?  That’s great!  But what if their workplace nemesis did too, and now they have to work together?   Or maybe it isn’t one big thing that goes wrong, but a lot of little things that add up.

While it’s definitely good to put your characters through tough trials, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to ruthlessly torture them with the worst that life has to throw at them.  Switch things up!  And try to do what best fits the story you want to tell.  It’s our job to tell the story in its entirety, relating both the ups and downs.

Happy writing!


About Aly Hughes
Unprofessional, unedited, unpublished. Aly is out to make a name for herself by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and general internet-ing. Be warned: She may not know what she's talking about.

11 Responses to What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?

  1. TheOthers1 says:

    I was going to say I’m not a fan of throwing in twists, but in the last two stories I’ve written had someone very close to the character die. That’s about as twisty as I get.

  2. I love this post. When I read it, I wanted to pump my fist in the air and say, “Yeah!”

    (But, you know, I was at work. 🙂 )

    This drives me crazy. I remember I was reading a fantasy trilogy. The writer was just determined to beat up his characters at every turn. There was no suspense at all. I only kept going to the beginning of the second book because the first book did end well. But then, not satisfied with his own ability to inflict misery, the writer brought in Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere. That was when I chucked it.

    This was what comic books did also, to prove that they weren’t for kids anymore. It was dreadful.

    Of course, I write murder mysteries, so bad things do happen, but I try to balance it out.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      haha, Yay! I’m not the only person to think that!

      You know, now that you mention reading a fantasy trilogy like that, I must say I find this happens mostly in fantasy novels. In fiction it doesn’t happen as often. I guess genre comes to play, for example, you writing murder mysteries, it’d be rather awful if there was hardly any conflict!

      I just think there’s a limit in a story on how many trials characters can go through before they completely break. Of course, sometimes that is the point of a story and you see a character go off the deep end, but those are rather rare. It’s hard for readers to invest so much time and energy in a story and character when they just completely break down.

  3. I LOVE being nasty to my characters….I tend to write Riches to Rags stories not Rags to Riches lol…..I like to knock them down at least once in a story 😉

    Sometimes it’s predictable, sometimes not…..I’m not sure it really matters if the outcome is satisfying for the reader, and the writer 🙂


    • Aly Hughes says:

      haha, well that in itself is definitely a twist! I’m curious, what genre do you usually write in? Now that I think about it, genre does have a lot to do with the trials a character is put through.

      And you’re definitely right! Authors and readers are all very different. As long as the writer is satisfied, there will be a readership enjoying it as well. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  4. Aly, I like twists but the worst thing that can happen only works if it’s used rarely. If it happens five times in the same novel, movie, TV show, it’s completely unbelievable. The best mysteries are those that have an element of truth. Thanks for the thoughtful post.


    • Aly Hughes says:

      I agree! Now that you mention it, it kind of reminds me of soap operas. They throw in ALL of the twists and worst case scenarios, which becomes absolutely ridiculous.
      Thank you for the comment. 🙂

  5. rtd14 says:

    You are right. I actually read the portion of Stephen Kings writing memoir. He talked about writing The Stand, and how he decided to shape what happened to his characters. He wrote about the very thing you have here. Characters need some good things to happen. In good movies, there is a break for the movie watchers after a big actions or heart gripping scene. A good book is the same way. It needs breaks, and good things happen for the characters. If a character is meant to be a relatable, real person; a real person can only take so much. I was sick last week, so I’m trying to catch up on my favorite blogs! 🙂 Again, great post!

    • Aly Hughes says:

      Aw, thank you! And it’s very true, we all need to have a bit of relief from the tension! I’ve read a novel where it was just wave after wave of conflict upon the characters. As a reader I felt so stressed and tensed, and perhaps that is what the author was going for, but it’s not something I would like to read again! 🙂

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