Expansion Pack: Secondary Stressors

Hi, Gang. Craig with you today. I want to try something a little different this time. I’m a work in progress just like everyone else. I’ve spent most of my career writing stand-alone novels and short stories. It was only recently that I dove into series work. I’ve made a few observations and maybe some of them will help our readers here.

I’ve written many times about secondary characters, but on a larger work you might find yourself needing some secondary stressors as well. Think of it this way. Star Wars was a pretty epic story. We’re all familiar with The Rebel Alliance vs The Galactic Empire. Wonderful stuff. However, we still had a few side stories to deal with and it helps fill the story out. Remember Han Solo had that whole Jabba the Hut issue to deal with, and it sucked his friends in too.

An antagonist is just something that impedes the hero in his/her goals. It forces the hero to deviate or deal with something else. After a dozen solo books, a trilogy forced me to think this way.

I could be an antagonist

This can make your world more believable, your characters more appealing, and it will help add words to the size of what you’re writing.

Any of these things could also be their own story, but in this instance, we want to enhance the main event with other things that could distract our heroes. It might even force them to make a choice between things they really want. Readers dig those kind of moments.

Economics is an interesting thing to consider. At one point in American history, the government promised all the freed slaves 40 acres and a mule. Sounds wonderful, but consider all the established farmers and their position in the markets. I can see the opportunity to add stress points to a story. Doesn’t matter which side of this your characters are on. New farmers might have to scratch a position out. Established ones might sabotage their efforts.

Many good stories have been written about water rights, mining claims, and other economic situations.

Take that thought as a secondary antagonist. It might fit into your epic fantasy tales. When draft animals have to go to war, how does that change things back home? In science fiction, perhaps farming robots have to be financed, and the bank is expecting payment. It’s not the main story, but can add that extra something. It can be more than stakes, and create an entire side story.

Love can be another one. Budding romance or failing romance can add a secondary stress to whatever your big picture might be. Your space fighter has been ordered one direction, but you know there’s another fight coming where your loved ones live. Will you defy orders to save them? What if defying those orders means losing the war? This is Yoda’s line all day long. “Help them you might…”

Obviously you can flip the script on these. Make these ideas the main tale against the backdrop of war, or something like that. Bigger stories can’t always be that linear sequence of events. If yours can, I applaud you. This is just something for your consideration.

Will your main character ignore basic economics to catch the serial killer, even though he’ll be homeless at the end? Dealing with his issues now will extend the manhunt. Will he allow more people to die to preserve his way of life?

Your main character is a government negotiator, and there are hostages on the line in a foreign country. Plenty of stress to write a story with, but what if he has to skip his cancer treatments to finish the assignment?

Obviously, there’s a sweet spot out there. You can include so many antagonists that readers lose the main plot. Be careful with this idea.

I guess my point is that for a bigger story, or a close ended series, you probably need more than one stressor to deal with. Am I off base here, or can you see this working for one of your stories?

44 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: Secondary Stressors

  1. I totally agree with you about those secondary stressors, Craig. They are essential in adding tension and conflict to a story. And you are also right in that they don’t have to be huge issues, but perhaps life-changing ones. I’m not sure there can be too many, especially in a series or trilogy. Great topic today! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there’s a balancing act. You could wind up with too many characters to keep track of. Some authors might handle that better, too. I’m still searching for that balance, but it could be directly related to the individual tale.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those secondary stressors are key in any story, especially longer or continuing works. Sometimes I fear I add too many for my characters, but I think they keep things interesting and readers emotionally invested.
    Very insightful post, Craig!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This makes perfect sense to me. You don’t need a sub-cast of antagonists lining up to provide the added tension – as you say, situations can provide that and I think they give a depth and interest that would be missing in a strictly linear plot. It’s how the protagonist responds to the challenges that makes us more invested in him/her and the main plotline. Your hero might be a hired assassin but it’s how he deals with his ageing grandmother and his rebellious teenage son that has us rooting for him.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Secondary Stressors | Legends of Windemere

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