By now, we know that conflict is a highly important element in our fiction. We also know that tension between characters is a good way to reveal conflict. But do we realize what causes tension? What causes conflict?
The answer is (high) stakes. When each character has stakes attached to their missions in a story, tensions naturally rise. Why? Because if the preferred outcome doesn’t actually occur, then there will be dire consequences – which your characters obviously do not want to face.
It is when characters start doing things to avoid consequences that tension builds, and that tension is what fiction readers feed off of.
Next time you’re analyzing the characters in your fiction work, or just questioning how to make them stronger and more purposeful, understand that there must be something significant at stake for every character. It may not be an obvious observation in a story, but how your characters act should be correlated to how high the stakes are and the consequences of losing the game, so to speak.