Worst-Case Scenarios Make for the Best Stories

As I’ve written before, a good story requires conflict. Without tension, a story lacks intrigue, and a lack of intrigue stops a reader cold. But how do you generate ideas for conflict?

One method consists in brainstorming a list of the worst scenarios that could happen to your character. Say your character, whom we’ll call Wilmot, is a pacifist who only wants to avoid the war brewing in the kingdom in which he resides. If Wilmot’s desire to avoid the war comprises his main goal, then you’ll need a dozen minor conflicts along the way to thwart that goal.

What terrible circumstances could happen to our pacifist? Well, Wilmot might think he’ll be fine so long as the war doesn’t reach his little farm in that out-of-the-way corner of the kingdom. But what if a band of rebels encroaches on his homestead? How will Wilmot respond to that? Then, what if the rebels decide to stay and make his farm their headquarters?

SoldiersWhat’s another awful event that could befall Wilmot? Suppose Wilmot possesses expertise in some area that the rebels lack knowledge in — and they impress him into serving their cause with that knowledge?

Or, for example, what if the leader of the rebels takes a fancy to Wilmot’s winsome teenage daughter? Then, what if the rebels say they’re moving on — but his daughter, won to their cause and enamored with the rebel leader, runs away with them?

All of these ideas can try Wilmot’s desire to remain a pacifist. His world has been invaded; his farm has been defiled; he’s been made to help the rebels; and his own daughter has joined them. Compound these awful events a few times, and you have a dozen worst-case scenarios to test Wilmot’s mettle.

Think of every possible blow to your protagonist and his or her goal. Be merciless. It’s your job to make life miserable for your main character; keep in mind that fire purifies. In the end, you want a hero who withstood the worst that fate can devise for him or her, because in the end, those are the characters we want to read about.

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