This reminded me of a rule of thriller writing. And that rule is: you must be mean to your hero. I’m not saying you must dislike your main character. But, you must put your hero into multiple perilous situations with escalating danger as your story progresses.
Here are some reasons you should be mean to your hero:
- Ramps up the suspense. Since a main goal in thriller writing is to put the audience on the edge of their seats, putting your hero in increasingly perilous situations is a must. Just think, your CIA agent meets with a group of international criminals. The meeting goes awry. They pull out their guns, a variety of automatic weapons. But, just before they can fire, she pulls a smoke grenade from her briefcase (which we know she always carries). She pulls the pin and escapes in a swirl of white smoke. Then, just as she bolts through a dark ally on her way to safety, a shadowy figure emerges, tases her, and tosses her into the back seat of a black sedan that speeds off into the inky darkness of night. OK, I admit, it’s kind of cheesy. But, you get the idea.
- Creates a page-turner. Also, by ramping up the action in each succeeding chapter, and ending each chapter with the hero in a perilous situation, you create a page-turner. If done right, your reader won’t be able to stop until they’ve reach the end.
- Displays the qualities and skills of your main character. Hopefully, you’ve foreshadowed your main character’s qualities in your introduction. Since we know the hero has, shall we say, “a very special set of skills” from the introduction, we are surprised and thrilled when she is able escape by the skin of her teeth. But, we aren’t served a dose of deus ex machina (see my blog post of 7/11/16 entitled: If You See “Deus Ex Machina”, Run!).
- Overcoming that Achilles’ heel. There is another way in which the increasing peril exposes your hero. If you’ve created a well-rounded protagonist, she’ll have an Achilles’ heel, a character trait that make her vulnerable to the bad guys. Maybe it’s a fear of heights, or an aversion to snakes (Remember Indiana Jones?). Whatever it is, it should come into play during the last and most grave peril she faces. The Achilles’ heel basically neutralizes her special skills and the only way she can overcome the situation is by applying personal attributes she’s developed over the course of the novel. Those could be discipline, resilience, bravery, and/or judgment. She uses one or a combination to fight and win out over that special fear and thus triumph in the end.