You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not the destination but the journey.” It might sound like a cliché, but actually, it’s a gem of wisdom for anyone trying to make their stories more captivating. Whether you’re looking to level up your writing skills, spruce up your manuscript, or enhance your chances of getting published, here’s why the journey in your story is what truly grabs your readers.

The Road Less Travelled

Think of your story as an epic journey, with your characters as the adventurous travellers navigating uncharted terrain, regardless of what your genre actually is. The destination may be intriguing—like a happily ever after or discovering the truth about a killer—but it’s the challenges, detours, and unexpected twists along the way that breathe life into your narrative. Smooth sailing from start to finish might sound ideal, but in reality, it’s often quite dull. Readers crave excitement, tension, and the thrill of the unknown.

It’s when things go haywire, when your characters face adversity, that your story shines. These moments of conflict and struggle provide the perfect backdrop for character development, transformation, and growth. How your characters respond to adversity and why they do it is what keeps readers hooked and flipping those pages.

Character Building through Adversity

Now, picture a protagonist who encounters zero challenges or setbacks along their journey. They reach their destination without a hitch, and everything goes according to plan. Would that make for an engaging story? Nope, not really. Readers connect with characters who face obstacles and learn from their mistakes.

Adversity is like the literary version of a gym for your characters. It pushes them to their limits, forces them to confront their weaknesses, and ultimately shapes them into the characters readers adore. So remember this: it’s through adversity that you can showcase the complexity and depth of your characters.

Consider Ebenezer Scrooge, the iconic character from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” At the start of the story, Scrooge is a miserly and heartless old man who only truly cares about his money. As a character, he’s devoid of warmth, compassion, and human connection. He’s the villain, right?

Now, what if Scrooge’s journey was smooth sailing from beginning to end? What even would be the end of the story for Scrooge, that he forces everyone to work on Christmas Day and gets a little richer? Is that what would happen if he never encountered the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future? If so, there’d be no magic to the story and its powerful message about redemption would be lost. He’d remain the villain forever. And it would be so very boring.

It’s through adversity—specifically him being confronted by the spirits and forced to confront his own past, present, and future—that Scrooge begins to change. These supernatural challenges push him to re-evaluate his life and the impact he’s had on those around him. He gets to see key events in his life from another perspective and we get to see his thought process behind it all. Not only does that help us to connect with him more as a character but we also feel a little bit of sympathy, maybe even empathy, for Scrooge.

By the end of his journey, he is a profoundly changed man, eager to make amends and spread goodwill. It’s the adversity and the lessons he learns along the way that make Scrooge’s story so compelling. The journey Ebenezer Scrooge goes on illustrates how adversity and character growth are essential ingredients in crafting a memorable and impactful narrative. Readers are drawn to stories where characters evolve, and their transformation is often sparked by the challenges they face during their journey. Allowing the reader to witness these challenges is what helps to draw them in.

Reader Empathy and Connection

Readers aren’t just passive observers; they’re active participants in your story. They invest their emotions, time, and imagination into the journey of your characters. To make this investment worthwhile, you must create characters readers can empathise with. When characters encounter setbacks and adversity, readers can relate to their struggles. They see themselves in the characters’ perseverance, resilience, and determination. This emotional connection is what keeps readers engaged and invested in the story. Remember that it’s not the flawless hero who captures hearts; it’s the imperfect one who learns and grows.

Love Against the Odds

You know that tear-jerking love story, “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks? Well, it’s a perfect example of how adversity can make a romance tale sizzle—with or without spice.

I’ll warn you, there’s spoilers ahead but it did come out in 1996 so you’ve had time…

Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson. They’re a match made in heaven, except they’re not. Noah and Allie come from different social backgrounds, and their love is initially forbidden by Allie’s parents. Despite the odds stacked against them, they embark on a passionate summer romance. However, their love story takes a heartbreaking turn when Allie’s parents intervene, separating them and relocating Allie away from Noah.

Years pass, and both Noah and Allie face numerous challenges in their lives during this time. Noah serves in World War II, while Allie gets engaged to another man. It’s the trials they endure separately that give their love story its emotional depth.

When they are reunited years later, they’re not the same people they were when they first met. The adversity they’ve faced only strengthens their bond. Noah’s dedication in rebuilding the old house they once visited together, despite the hardships, reflects the enduring power of their love. Allie, torn between her past love and her fiancé, must make a heart-wrenching decision.

The adversity, the obstacles, and the sacrifices they make in the pursuit of love are what make “The Notebook” a must read romance novel. Readers are drawn to the story not just for the destination of love; it’s about the wild ride Noah and Allie go on, testing the strength of their love and their willingness to fight for it.

In this romance genre example the adversity the characters face, both as a couple and separately, serves as a catalyst for character development and the deepening of the romantic connection. It reminds us that love stories aren’t just about two people finding each other. They’re about the messy, complicated journey they take together, and that’s what makes them so captivating, whether they end up together or not.

Crafting Compelling Conflict

If you want to improve your writing skills and elevate your manuscript, focus on crafting compelling conflict. Conflict doesn’t always have to be external; it can also be internal, residing within your characters’ hearts and minds. What do they want, and what’s preventing them from getting it? These are the questions that drive your narrative and how you show (and not tell) how your character answers them is what will add the depth and the reader connection needed for a compelling story.

When plotting your story, don’t shy away from adversity and challenges. Embrace them as opportunities to showcase your characters’ strengths and vulnerabilities. Explore the “why” behind their choices and actions. What motivates them to keep going when everything seems to be falling apart? This exploration will add authenticity to your narrative.

Remember that storytelling is not about rushing to the destination but relishing the journey. It’s about the trials and tribulations your characters face and the profound ways in which they evolve. Embrace the imperfections, the conflicts, and the setbacks. They are the keys to captivating your readers and making your manuscript shine. In the end, it’s the journey that defines your story’s greatness, not just the destination.