It makes a better book out of a bad onePhysical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, all good books have suffering. Does this make a good book? Not necessarily, but it will make a better book. Even if your plot is as holey as Swiss cheese and your setting as overused as the word cliché and your characters as bland as angel food cake without frosting, suffering can at least help. Making your characters suffer will bring more attachment to them from the reader, at least out of empathy, and making high, difficult situations makes a plot more intense and a more enthralling read. Making your characters suffer can even help a boring setting, because it invokes urgency in the reader's mind, making them think that this is a dangerous or very undesirable place and situation (and all of us, the odd creatures we are, enjoy reading about other people being in trouble). Making your characters suffer will add interest in their wellbeing, because any sympathetic human being will at least be mildly interested in their solution to this suffering.
It polishes an already good book
Even if you have a nice, creative setting, good characters, and an intricate plot, you should still incorporate difficulties and strife. If your amazing characters are uncomfortable, it will have twice the empathetic effect as characters who are not amazing. If the reader loves your characters, their heart will ache all the more seeing them suffer, and be all the more invested in it. If your plot is already good, this - even if it doesn't increase the stakes themselves - makes the stakes seem higher for losing it all. Same with the setting - suffering increases the human element in a story's setting because it is an essential part of humanity and earthly life.
It will increase your creativity
Thinking of new ways to make trouble for your characters that nobody else has used is one of the best exercises an author can do for creativity. A bajillion authors let somebody get shot in the shoulder with an arrow. What about in the middle of Central Park? A bajillion authors let people die in the last stretch of the book. What about early on? Even if the idea isn't necessarily a good one to actually use, your span of new ability for ideas is broadened by having it.
It develops your characters more
What makes each of your characters suffer? In trying to figure out even just this tiny question, you are delving right into your ink-and-paper person's heart. A tiny bit of heartache for a character can mean pages worth of development on them.
But isn't it a bit psychotic?
I've heard a few authors concerned before that making characters suffer can decrease the author's empathy, or make an author become rather obsessed with, or even a bit psychotic and inhuman in their normal life. However, let me dispel these fears. Actually, at least in my case, making my characters suffer has made me far more empathetic. Submerging myself in the darks and lights of other fictional people allowed me to see into the different viewpoints of other real people. In fact, I believe writing has done wonders for my relationships with my siblings and close friends especially, because I can imagine things from their point of view. And even random people, I start to analyze their viewpoints in my mind - it helps to know them better and to respect their actions more. As for being inhuman, many authors tend to give off that vibe, but most of the time it's not because they're authors. It's because a lot of authors are introverts, who also seem to give off that vibe, but in truth are merely people in their own little world. If authors don't pay attention to other people, or seem too quiet, it's merely because they think more about what those other people are saying or doing, not less. And being obsessed with making your characters suffer is a problem I have never come across in all my days of being an author or meeting other authors. A few may celebrate it, but that few are the people who like to pretend they're psychopaths anyways, and so writing was just one of many ways they found to channel that usually comically-meant persona. As far as I've observed, none of us are really, truly obsessed with seeing other people suffer.
Why do we write suffering?
Yes, you may agree with my arguments at this point, but there is the creeping question that I haven't answered yet. Why? Why do we as readers love books with suffering? Why do we as writers tend to write suffering? Why? I think the first reason has to do with what I've mentioned above - suffering is such an integral part of humanity, that it gives us a revelation of our own lives and world to see suffering. We realize how much it reflects our humanity and it plays upon our hearts' attachment to our fellows. To see another suffer reflects our own suffering, and we wish for both to end, but we are interested because it tells us what we bear in this life.
Another reason is the reason for real-life suffering - it is a cross we must bear, but it touches us. In suffering, we grow within ourselves, and in sticking with others through their suffering, the same effect is accomplished through our human empathy. We are perhaps sobered by the fact of suffering, but we also take joy in the fact that it is not all there is to existence. So reading it makes us feel the presence of both joy and sorrow, so deeply written in our being.
The final reason is perhaps the most profound. We, as humans, imitate what we love or admire. In our real suffering we imitate Christ on the cross. In writing suffering, we wish our characters to imitate that same scene. We love to see them as sacrificial, and beautiful, and a profound insight into the greatest things of life. In writing their suffering, we are expressing our desire to be like Christ even in our works. And in having our works imitate Him, we give him glory - and is that not the ultimate goal of any art?
If you are writing a book, let your characters suffer. There is nothing better you can do for your book - and it can even be spiritually aiding for you in addition. And, perhaps, it can lead your reader also to an image of what they most want to be - a true human, who suffers with us all.
So there's my light writing-tip post turned all meditational and profound. This happens every time I write posts without pre-decided guidelines... :P But, despite the inconsistent change of mood mid-post, what did you think? Do you agree? Do you have anything to add? Are there any of the aforementioned mock-psychopath writers in my audience? And is anyone else frustrated with how incongruous the aesthetic of this post is???