Tips for Writers: Frustrate Your Hero


Writers, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, of course. I always seek the Rolling Stones’ advice when I’m creating characters and storylines.”

Or maybe not.

But Mick does have a point: Instead of building a conventional dramatic arc by having your main character ultimately get what he or she wants (after overcoming the bad guys), consider having your hero try but fail to get what s/he wants, and instead get what s/he needs.

Some examples:

  • Schindler’s List – Oskar Schindler wants to make money exploiting Jews. Instead, he grows a soul and spends every penny he has rescuing them from the Nazis.
  • Home Alone – Immature Kevin wants to avoid responsibility–and things that scare him.Β  Instead, he ends up taking on the responsibility of protecting his home, and faces his worst fears, becoming more mature in the process.
  • Jurassic Park – Dr. Alan GrantΒ wants to marry his paleontological sweetheart and pursue pure science without the messiness of children. Instead, he ends up putting his life on the line to protect two children, and opens up his heart up in the process.
  • Huckleberry Finn – Huck wants to be free from “sivilizashun,” but instead ends up reentering civilization in order to help free runaway slave Jim (although at the end of the story Huck vows to escape again).

Virtually every tragedy, from Oedipus Rex, to Hamlet, to Catcher in the Rye follows this principal. Even if the hero often dies in the end, they–and we–learn something necessary as a result. So prove you’ve got the moves like Jagger and try creating a leadI-Cant-Get-No-Satisfaction character who…

Can’t get no satisfaction!

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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26 Responses to Tips for Writers: Frustrate Your Hero

  1. Ah, I get it. Make it autobiographical …

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Andrew has a point. I don’t think we need to look any further than our own lives to see this plot unfolding. That is, if we are mature enough to recognize when we’ve been given what we need. (If we have divine perspective. πŸ˜‰ )

    Liked by 4 people

  3. revruss1220 says:

    Great tip! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Those are all great examples. I’ve got a problem frustrating my characters because I get too involved with them. It’s like knowing that you’ll spoil your kids if you can’t say “no” to them, but you do it anyway. I’m also uncomfortable watching movies because I take the plots too seriously, I get too upset. I know cerebrally that it’s make-believe but my emotions don’t accept that. Do I need to see a shrink? πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Jennwith2ns says:

    Great advice. Also transferrable to real life. Pushing through our our own frustrations and out of our comfort zones is so rewarding even if we end up with a different reward than we thought we wanted.

    Now I’m mulling over the difference between active, hopeful “acceptance” and passive, disappointed “resignation”…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. LOL! I remember a couple of little boys once, playing a video game that was too easy, no frustration, no challenge. At the end there were tears, complete despair, as if someone had given their puppy away. It was just so easy, over so fast, and we got exactly what we wanted, and now life is just so horribly boring and pointless. Hubby walked in wondering what had happened. Uh, I don’t know, they beat the game?? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Very nice. I tend to agree

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lately, my characters haven’t gotten what they wanted or needed. They’re all very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Could be a great set up for a sequel too

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Such a humorous way to get your point across…got it!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is a lesson in life that we fail to receive the message. Let alone ever being able to understand. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This post made me think of several movies, including “Rocky.” We watch our protagonist, the underdog, get the dream opportunity to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
    In the end, it’s a draw. He doesn’t win, but at least he doesn’t lose. (That seems to happen in several Sylvester Stallone movies.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Good point, Michael! Rocky is the happier version of the character-gets-what-they-need storyline, one in which they are able to appreciate the value of what they’ve learned and to grow as a person.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah! Rocky. What a masterpiece. I saw it when it first ran. I was immediately captured by the cinematography. One scene that floored me was the one with Rocky walking along at the foot of a giant rock wall. It said so much. You could grab a frame from the film, blow it up to wall-size, put itin a nice frame and stick it in an art museum. When I was trying to learn screenwriting off the internet I learned that Stallone wrote the script in 3 days. OMG, what a genius. People don’t give him enough respect. That made Rocky seem even more special to me. I think it will stand the test of time, like “Captains Courageous.” It will definitely age well. Thanks for reminding me of Rocky. VMK

      Liked by 2 people

  13. parkermccoy says:

    So true. Character arcs are all about change and usually for the better but even when for the worse, it’s a lesson on how not to be. What we want is often not what we need. Stories that show this can help us get through tough times, too. Excellent post, Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s so true. It goes back to the Norse sagas and Homer’s poems. And a good movie script has tons of frustrations and bumps in the road along the way as well. I thought of that when watching the recent iteration of Terminator: The heroine has the magic, glowing tool that can kill the terminator, in tryihng to stab it, she falls down, drops the tool and it skids over to the edge of a drop-off, then we see her stretching, stretching her hand toward it. Will she reach it? Tune in next week. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

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