Bring the pain!
I’ve started reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and he has a refreshing take on how to craft your stories. One of his main tenants is you have to have a Theme. The theme is the thing you’re trying to evoke or to relate to real life, something to hang the structure of your story on. It’s really crucial to keep this in mind, especially if you’re a pantser like I am. What is a pantser? It means you write by the seat of your pants. The phrase developed as a reference to pilots at the turn of the century, as flying by the seat of their pants. There were no instruments in those days so they had to rely on their own senses for a lot of navigating and maneuvering, which could be very tricky. It relates well to writing without a strong outline, letting your characters dictate a lot of what happens. There can be a lot of pitfalls with this approach if you aren’t careful.
I had a very illuminating moment a while back in my current work in progress, where my character was going down a path that was making him question a lot of his feelings and motives and it was making him extremely uncomfortable. He wanted to change the direction of the story on me; it was that uncomfortable for him. Luckily, I realized the ramifications of taking that fork and I didn’t get too far afield before having to backtrack and force my character to man-up! I knew where the story needed to go because I had a strong theme and it kept me on course with only a minor deviation. If I hadn’t had the theme in mind I could have followed that fork to its logical conclusion and my story would have lost a lot of potency. I would likely have had to revise the entire end of the book, and it wouldn’t have been as rich a story in my opinion. We fall in love with our protagonists and sometimes we really want to listen to them and get them out of pain or trouble, but that is the path to a weak story with no Theme, not to mention boring. Theme is the lifeblood to an interesting and perhaps tragic tale, but also allows for those heroic moments that really bring the power to your story.
Good luck with your writing!