I feel like this was something we covered in undergrad fiction workshop. If things are too easy for your characters, there is no suspense. If there’s no suspense of any kind, there’s not much reason to keep reading. When everything is hunky-dory all the time, things get boring. Conflict of some kind is necessary in fiction. When the stakes are too low, there’s no point watching the betting. Here are some books I’ve read recently where I’ve encountered this issue:
This is a problem I see with some YA books. I’m a little hesitant to criticize YA books for being too simple, because they’re designated YA for a reason. They’re meant to be simple. And that’s ok. There is room in the world for easy, unchallenging reads that just offer a little escape into a fantasy. I don’t wish these books didn’t exist. But they have their place, and they can’t pretend to be something they’re not. Some YA books make the crossover into adult readership successfully, and these ones won’t.
I guess my ho-hum reactions to these books have taught me that I like the stakes plenty high to keep me interested. That doesn’t mean life-or-death cliffhangers at every turn, but it means I need some drama, some disagreement or inner turmoil. I don’t like being able to predict the solution to a character’s problem too easily. A reader shouldn’t be able to solve all of a character’s problems for her on page 10, then have to watch her enact these obvious solutions for the next 300 pages. When characters are too happy, when side characters start pairing up just as decoration, when they’re having cute little parties just to get the cast together and marvel at how pretty everyone is, it’s a sign. These things are happening because the conflict isn’t big enough. If the conflict were taking up more space, there would be no room for sweet little meaningless scenes like that.
There’s a reason today’s criticisms are not as scathing as my previous pet peeve posts. My objection to overly easy, suspenseless plots is aesthetic, not moral. I have moral objections to materialism and fanservice. Aesthetic objections carry less urgency and inspire less passion in me, because bad aesthetics is relatively harmless. If the biggest problem is that a plot is without tension, at least no one is being hurt or taught bad values. They’re just being bored. The writer is shooting himself in the foot, not turning his gun on a whole roomful of readers. I guess every writer has a right to do that, if she really wants, though I’d advise against it.