Not too long ago, I had a discussion with a fellow writer about putting our much loved characters through difficult situations. My friend was having trouble with her story, and her critiquers all said the same thing: the MC had very little growth, and the things she learned seemed contrived.
So I read the story, and I, too, felt the same way. On top of that, I had no sympathy for the main character, but I couldn't clearly see why. So I read it again, made some notes, asked some questions, and then it hit me. The MC had life way, way too easy. Sure, bad things happened to her, but they weren't that bad. This made her seem whiny and weak, because if she can't deal with this, then there's no way she can deal with real problems.
I told this to my friend, and she was on the verge of tears at the idea of putting her MC through anything worse. But, in the end, that's what she did, and her story was much better for it.
That got me thinking about my characters. I have no problem with throwing them off a cliff with nothing but a shoestring to climb back up. And that bothered me. I mean, what does that say about me? How could I be so willing to do this? I lay in bed that night thinking about it, wondering if I was really a bad person and just didn't know it.
Then it hit me. When I was in high school, I was presented with this question: "If you had the power to change anything about your life, what would you change?" My immediate response was "that's easy, I'd change this, this, this...." Then I started thinking about how each of those incidents affected me as a person. If they were taken away, I might not be the person I am today.
But I like who I've become. I think I have a unique perspective, and would really hate to lose that. So, I changed my mind. I wouldn't change those things. In fact, the only things I would change are so small that, in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn't matter if they stayed where they were. This revelation was a turning point in my life, and put me on the road to accepting who I am as a whole, complete, person.
Our experiences help to make us who we are. Who we become. The same thing happens to a main character. So if we don't do anything to her, then how can she grow and change? She can't. Then, not only do you have no story, but you have a character that no one loves. If you really want to see how your MC can change or grow, then find out what she loves the most. And then take it from her. You can bet she won't be happy about that, and she might surprise you in how she reacts.
I want my characters to grow in unimaginable ways. I cry when I think of what they can become. But in order to do that, I have to put them through the wringer, many times, then throw them overboard. So I guess that means I love them...in a bizzare, twisted way. (gulp) Sheesh.