I'm prone to migraines and when one hits I'm pretty much down for the day (or longer if it's bad). As you can imagine, that puts a bit of a crimp in my day. It's hard to get much writing done when you can't stare at a screen without pain. Annoying little issues are things we deal with every day, so why not make sure our characters also have to deal with them?
When you're creating your characters and their lives, don't forget to add in the little things that can cause them trouble, even if it's not earth-shattering trouble. Think about the bad days you've had, where nothing went right, and how that escalated into you snapping and yelling at someone who didn't deserve it. Or caused you to do something you wouldn't have ordinarily done had you not already been stressed by stupid little things.
In other words, pile on the problems.
In The Shifter, finding food and work is one of those annoying things my protagonist has to do every day. It's not a major event in the book, but it does cause her extra trouble, and it does start her down the path that becomes the major conflict of the story. It's also something that can add a layer of difficulty to everything she does. Life is hard for her, even the simple everyday things. A hard life makes everything more difficult.
Places to look for conflict:
- World building: What inherent problems occur in this character's world?
- Work: What problem issues can come up on the job?
- Family: Are there any family issues that can throw a wrench in the protag's plan?
- Friends: Can a friend come to them for help at a bad time?
- Health: Is there a medical issue that can cause recurring trouble?
- Small conflicts can help raise the tension, so try looking at the major turning points in your story. Find those moments and then go back a few scenes (or even chapters) and look for places where the protag's day/goal/problem would be made a little bit worse by one more thing heaped onto their To-Do List.
- Slow scenes can benefit from added small problems, so check any spots that drag and look for ways to make things a little more difficult.
- Emotional situations or turning points can be made more powerful by a small issue or conflict that underlines or further illustrates that emotion. Or is completely contrary to it. (Have you ever had to fake being happy when you wanted to curl up and cry?)
Be wary of tossing in a small issue just to add a small issue though. Empty problems will read like empty problems and make the book feel full of "stuff" but no real plot or story.
When you add a small issue, make sure it connects to the character and story in some way. It might:
- Put stress on an existing problem
- Add a ticking clock
- Push an emotional button
- Take advantage of a character flaw and bring it to light
- Undermine the character so they're in bad shape for the next problem
- Raise the stakes
- Provide an opportunity for the protag to fail
- Provide an opportunity for the protag to learn a skill they'll need later
Does your protagonist have small, day to day issues or do they only deal with the major plot points?