on The Fiction University:
Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist is the worst thing for the story, too.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen? Do it,” is good advice when plotting a novel. It adds conflict, escalates the stakes, and raises the tension.
The downside, though, is that sometimes letting our readers know what “the worst thing” is, is actually bad for the story.
I ran into this problem when I was drafting my fourth novel. The “worst thing” was something pretty darn terrible, so when my protagonist found out about it, she naturally tried to stop it (as protagonists are wont to do).
Unfortunately, this happened well before the third act and climax of the novel, so “the worst thing” was out there in the story and readers would know what it was. Knowing it would spoil a lot of the tension because the stakes could no longer escalate.
I had a choice to make–tell the reader and risk killing my tension or keep it a secret and risk not raising the stakes enough.
If you’re facing this dilemma n your current project, here are some things to consider: