You’ve designed a hero. Well done. Now ask this new-formed person, still shiny and innocent, the following question: What’s the worst thing that can happen to you?
Worst in the way of most tragic, unnerving, dreadful, personal, disastrous, or horrible.
And, because all writers are as cruel as they’re empathetic (surely, a sign of masochism), make it happen.
Interestingly, the question of “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” is not what keeps readers riveted to the pages. It merely sets the stage for what follows. The question of “And then what?”
Your loved ones abandoned you for the thing you’ve done, and then what? Your village got burned, and then what? You’re forced to choose between the lives of two friends, and you make a choice, one dies, and then what? The crew of your spaceship mutinied against you, and then what?
The dramatic event, that writers like to focus on too much, frankly, isn’t that dramatic to the readers. It’s no more than a setup. The hidden engine of storytelling is the followup because we get to see how the hero reacts. Only then can we decide if we want to root for them or not.