All writers love their characters. We wouldn’t spend thousands of words and hours with them if we didn’t. So of course we don’t want anything bad to happen to them.
But if nothing bad happens to our characters, then we don’t have a story. No one wants to read a book where everything is perfect all the time. Without conflict, there’s no plot, no character goals, and no opportunities for characters to grow.
I recently read a novel that had heaps of conflict all the way up to the climax. It was a character-driven story that started with a falling out between the protagonist and her long-time best friend. Throughout the book we saw glimpses of their friendship over the years interspersed with the events leading up to their rift. I really cared about these characters, and understood why both of them acted the way they did. I was rooting for them to make up.
But then, the book ended with everything suddenly being fine between them. There was no big blow-out, no final confrontation, no fight about the hurtful things said or the protagonist’s ruined reputation. A tragic accident resulted in a near-death, and suddenly everyone was just happy no one died, and all the strained relationships between the main character and her family and friends were magically resolved.
I know this sometimes happens in real life, but in fiction, it feels like a cop-out. I wanted a final showdown, or at least a conversation. I’m guilty of this kind of thing in my own writing — I sometimes write four or five different endings before I get that final confrontation right. I’ll lead my characters into pits of despair and then when they finally get to the epic battle … well, I’ll avoid making it epic, or even much of a battle, without even realizing it. I think subconsciously I just don’t want to make my characters that miserable.
But that’s the job of a good storyteller. The bigger the conflict, and the higher the stakes, the more invested the reader will be. So don’t shy away from confrontation. Let your characters duke it out, whether they’re hurling spells across a battlefield or shouting insults across a locker room. Your story, and your characters, will be stronger for it.