When I was young I always wondered why stories had to involve problems and suffering. Why couldn’t it be the story of people who got on ok, had a laugh, got married, gave a big thumbs-up to the camera/reader? What was with all the problems, arguments, injuries, and death?
I wish I had a good answer. But the truth is, the greater the problem, the faster the pages turn. I have missed very few stops on the Tube because of a book, but I did for Charles Palliser’s Quincunx (try saying that in mixed company) the story of a middle-class boy who, through the complications of a will and five families, descends through the strata of Regency society facing one problem after another. Couldn’t put it down.
In novels the most interesting character is often the one who suffers. Or, in Dostoevsky, the one who sweats the most. Having said that, there are characters who have clearly suffered more than the main character. The sycophantic prisoner in Life of Brian for example, (‘they only hung me the right way up yesterday!’). But the main character is the one whose suffering we are tied into, the one we are walking alongside. The suffering doesn’t have to be Auschwitz-level. Bertie Wooster is always in danger of getting engaged to some determined-but-daffy horror, when all he wants to do is wake up in the morning and eat kippers. But boy does he suffer.