What happens if you have two things—or two facets of a character’s personality—that are equally important to the protagonist but conflict with each other?
We could use the tug between a character’s work and his family—and a character who loves both things equally. Suddenly we increase his work demands and his family needs simultaneously. How will he respond? What kinds of choices will he make and how will it change the plot? Maybe he misses his shot at promotion when he spends more time at home? What does that do to him?
We could invent an obsessively neat character who is always perfectly polite. Then we could dump a freeloading, messy, down-on-his-luck relative on him.
One of my neuroses is my punctuality. I have to be on time. My daughter just got the role of the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” and I burst out laughing—the White Rabbit should be my avatar in life. I also want to do a Good Job with everything I take on. So where does the need to be punctual and turn a project in conflict with my desire to have it be as perfect as possible?
How do our characters handle this stress? How does it affect their decision-making?
So we can personalize the torture we’re putting our characters through. What are these characters like? What do they need? Do they need two things—and what if these needs conflict with each other?
What matters most to our characters and how can we threaten it?