Fire Emblem. A Nintendo series of mythical beasts and knights in shining armor. It is a tactical role-playing game, the first installment coming out in 1990.
Each game focused around a different hero. You learned to utilize units on a square grid, moving and attacking much like a more complex version of chess. Each unit has strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and a personal touch of character to them.
This little Nintendo game also taught me an invaluable lesson about writing.
One of Fire Emblem’s most prized features is ‘perma-death’ (permanent death). If your character dies, then they are dead for the rest of the game. If your main character dies, then you have to start the level over. But if your level 20 Pegasus knight that you’ve trained up since the first map, raising her relationship level with your knight to make them an unstoppable team, and giving her your best lance, dies… well, she is dead for good.
Sure, you can always reload from the last save-state, but you find yourself feeling like a cheat if you do it too often. Sometimes you’ve got to take the hit, and take the consequences for your poor tactical choices.
Your choices have consequences. Permanent consequences. And it created beautiful tension.
There are not very many games that would have you concerned, careful, and calculated with determining the fate of your own soldiers. Tension would unfold as you played the game, almost like reading a book. Characters you cared about were in trouble, except unlike a book, you are in charge of the outcome. One decision at a time.
It taught me at a very young age that, if there was no real tension, you really didn’t care. Other games, where if your character died they would be okay, were suddenly boring. No matter what happened, they would still respawn by the next level. Story characters work like this as well.
If you spend your story talking about the life of an invincible man, then there is not much of a story to tell. He walks up to the enemy, does not die (big surprise there), and then beats them.
However, if you follow a frail man, watching him come close to the point of breaking, grow, then overcome his frailty, you are suddenly invested. We like to see consequences. We like to see people fall, and then rise out of their failures.
If nothing else, then just remember that a cast of characters should not be invincible. If they make mistakes, they need to pay for them. If they mess up, some may die, fail, or lose their desire.
Have something that your character can fight for, and show the readers the reality of consequences.
If you do that, then you have a story worth your reader’s time.