For my job I spend a lot of time in front of a computer, doing kind of repetitive things. Because of that I like to have Netflix on in the background, which means that I have seen a lot of TV shows. Most recently I’ve been watching Jane the Virgin. (major spoilers for episode 1 of this show ahead)
Jane the Virgin is about a girl who is accidentally artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant even though she has never had sex before.
That premise alone was enough conflict for me to decide to give it a shot (plus the fact that Jane is a writer!). But as I watched the first episode, the tension kept piling up in the best ways possible. And that made me think about how important it is to make the stakes as high as possible for your own characters–not just your main ones, but secondary as well.
Jane is engaged to a great guy, who has agreed to wait until they are married to have sex with her, since that’s what she wants. Now she has to tell him that she’s pregnant.
Then we find out that Jane knows the father of the child growing inside of her. In fact, they kissed once several years ago and he never called her back.
That’s a lot of conflict! But is it enough…?
Let’s add in the fact that the father of Jane’s baby had cancer, and the sperm Jane was inseminated with is his only shot at having a baby.
Let’s see if we can amp it up a liiiiittle more, just to really torture Jane, her fiance, and the baby’s father. Let’s say Jane was raised by a single mother, and it’s crucial to her that the baby end up in a solid home. Which works out great, since the father is married to a nice girl–but their marriage is secretly falling apart.
Still not quite enough?
Let’s say her fiance knows about the failing marriage, but doesn’t tell Jane.
You want your novel to have as much conflict as this telenovela-style show. And the best way to do that is to make sure that your secondary characters all have their own motivations. Jane has a plan–she wants to graduate college, get married, and then have babies. So of course being pregnant is a big conflict for her. But the fact that the secondary characters all have such fleshed out motivations (fiance desperate to not end up with the baby, baby’s father desperate to have the child in spite of his failing marriage, etc.) is what really makes the plot interesting.
If you are going through revisions and notice there are some parts where you are bored (or if your beta readers have noted a few places where the story is dragging), then this kind of conflict could be your solution. And if your are plotting or writing your first draft and feel like your middle is sagging, see if there aren’t places you can up the tension based on your secondary characters’ motivations!