I have been writing fiction since I was a little girl, maybe nine or ten, and today at twenty-four I still haven’t finished a single novel.

What is the hindrance, you ask?

The problem I find myself having can sometimes throw away my whole story idea. I’ve been working on one story for about 3 years now, writing and rewriting it over and over, threatening to abandon it for all time. And the main reason is because I don’t want to be cruel (enough) to my characters. I like them too much.

You know how it goes: you come up with that great protagonist, who’s smart and sweet and generally so awesome you’d hang out with her on the weekends if she existed. You give her a pretty name and a cute love interest and set her up with a nondescript, never-actually-around loving family in a setting that you’re currently interested in. And once that’s all been sketched out, you realize you just can’t write her story.

Why? Because her story involves heartbreak, challenge, general torture, and dismay. You have to take this sweet, smart girl and start maligning her character, giving her problems, phobias, and issues. You have to rip her from her impossibly cute and wonderful boyfriend in the most painful way. You might need to make her father an abusive alcoholic or her mother a scatterbrained nervous wreck. This girl can’t have anything go her way for at least three-quarters of the book, if she even gets that lucky.

Without her heartbreak, challenges, and issues, you don’t have a story.

I think a problem many starting-out writers face has to do with perspective: crossing the line between being a reader and being a writer. As a reader, all we hope for is that the protagonist finds his way through the impossible set of challenges in front of him to become a great success in the end. We root for him page after page, no matter how despicable he is or how hard he’s being hit with the obstacles, and most of the time are rewarded for our cheerleading on the last page with a satisfying ending. The hero has confronted his demons and jumped through all of the hoops the mean author set before him, and he stands victorious.

As writers, we are forced to jump to the other side of the fence. On the writing side of the fence, there is less rooting and more meddling. We decide how the protagonist will be tortured along the way to her goal, and if she will succeed. And that’s sort of a scary (but exciting) mission on its own. Instead of merely rooting for the protagonist, we are writing his legacy. So while we’re feeling bad about throwing so many obstacles at our characters, we’re actually helping them achieve a greater victory in the end. We’re building their legacy.

What problems do you have while building your plot?