My book is about a boy who wants to run away from home, and while writing a plan to run away from home he discovers all the reasons that he should stay, his best friend, his lover, and he discovers his passion. What I don't know how to do however is to rip this all away from him. she is going to reject him, but he is going to think it's normal because he's suffered rejection his whole life.

I want to make his life living hell (obviously because the readers love that.) So how do I make it really bad for him?

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    Exactly is what making his life a living hell supposed to accomplish? In a story, suffering should be a means to an end, or an end in itself, not a means to nothing. Jul 31, 2018 at 17:55

4 Answers 4


I think the best way to make the character suffer is to ensure all the things that go wrong are a direct result of each of their actions to try to make things better.

So he tells his lover he's going to run away, hoping she'll go with him, but she goes ballistic and breaks up with him. He goes to his best friend to ask for help sorting things out with the girl, but his best friend gets angry at him for asking and also stops talking to him. In an attempt to make a grand gesture to his best friend, he gets in trouble with the police. While on the run from the police he trips over a nuclear reactor and... well, you get the idea.


I think you need to go back to basics and make sure you have a solid starting point for your plot, because at the moment it sounds like you only have a kernel.

I would recommend starting by considering the five major plot elements:

  • Character
  • Situation
  • Objective
  • Opponent
  • Disaster

I'm going to complete these for you to show you what I'm talking about, but you should replace all of this with your own ideas:

  • Character - the boy. Let's call him Felix, for no particular reason
  • Situation - living in a world of constant rejection
  • Objective - find a place where he feels supported
  • Opponent - A violent stepfather (for example)
  • Disaster - He risks losing his newly found passion, his best friend, his lover

So, your premise would be: Felix has decided it's time to run away from a life lived with constant rejection. But even if he can overcome his violent stepfather, he may discover that fleeing will force him to lose the only things in his life that really matter.

Once you start looking at those you can start to see some gaps (such as an opponent) in what you've described above which in my opinion you need to resolve before anything else.

Here are a few of the questions that it raised for me:

Why is he planning to run away? Usually running away is a very spur of the moment thing, not something you sit down and make lists about.

If he discovers all the reasons he should stay while writing this plan, it sounds a bit like a non story, as the thing he wants to do, he never actually does.

Are you saying he realises all the things that are important to him and then they get ripped away? I'm unclear on the order of events here.

So, in general, I think you've got a lot more work to do on getting a decent story structure, and if you do that, then you will naturally find out how to make your character suffer.

I would especially suggest using the technique of 'Goal >> Conflict >> Disaster' in order to achieve an effect where things are constantly getting worse for the character.

You can read more about that here: https://www.novel-software.com/roadmapstep6 (disclosure - that is my website)

Sorry if it's not a very concise answer.


He sabotages it himself, but this time because the relationship was working and his love interest was so generous and understanding of his faults, he now realizes HE is the problem, and he has always been the problem all the other times too. He can't blame someone else this time. She even tried to work through his self-sabotage, to help him, but his defenses kicked in and he attacked her.

The thing is, she saw right through it. The disappointment in her face wasn't about what he said or that he threw up his defenses against her. She sees now that he isn't ready to address the real problem: himself.

That's not someone you can build a life with or raise children. He's a liability, not a life partner. Her expression wasn't just disappointment or sadness, it was so much worse. There was a politeness in her voice, the way you'd talk gently to a man who's woken up in a hospital with all four limbs amputated. Whatever romantic feelings she'd had were gone, replaced with a kind of pity.

And this time he had no one to blame but himself.


Is the goal for your character to just plan to run away, or to run away and then realize it was a mistake and return home?

Making your character suffer can be fun, and it can help them grow, but be careful about making them suffer too much. If everything goes wrong, it can be really demoralizing, and it might seem unrealistic for your character to continue on when everything that CAN go wrong DOES.

My best idea would be to figure out why does your character think [other location] is better than [home]? Find those reasons, and twist them. Maybe your MC's home is a small town and MC wants to run away to the city because he thinks city life is exciting. And then he discovers--it's too exciting. There's too much noise, he might get robbed, all the potential drawbacks that would make him suffer and make him realize that he prefers his home.

Just be careful about making your MC suffer too much. He has to have a reason to keep going.


You can have all sorts of bad things happen to your character, because in the end you know they prevail. But to avoid diluting the tension you have to make it seem like the bad things are insurmountable.

Have them lose. Have them suffer setbacks.

I think in traditional script-writing parlance there's a part of the story where the main character is up a tree and having coconuts biffed at them. They can't go down, they can't go up and they can't stay where they are.

If you've ever done any roleplaying (e.g. D&D) then you can do to your character all the things which would be unfair if the DM did them to the players. Have them be outnumbered, have them be captured. Inflict wounds upon them, even permanent disabilities. Have their home town be destroyed. Have their army defeated.

This is covered in books/articles about the hero's journey.

A common staple in romance is the misunderstanding which prevents communication. E.g. the love interest sees the hero(ine) doing something which is perfectly explainable, but at first glance seems utterly reprehensible, thus rendering them unwilling to even listen to an explanation.

Here's an example from Pro-wrestling (modern day soap operas with a side helping of athleticism and drama).

The wrestler is explaining to a female wrestler how to do a basic 'take down'. E.g. she has to reach down between her legs and grab the leg of the person (the theoretical opponent) who is standing behind her, and pull it forward through her legs, thus taking the opponent off balance and down to the mat. (Disclaimer: I have no idea if this works in real life, or if it does that it requires ridiculous amounts of skill to pull it off).

Just as the female wrestler is bent over to grab his foot, his wife enters the office and sees her bent over doggy-style in front of her husband with his hands on her hips, as though they were getting it on. Wrestler's wife is furious and slams the door before he can explain. Female wrestler shrugs and walks off, essentially saying that it's not her problem and she doesn't want to get involved.

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