Failure in real life can be bad. Sure, there are sayings like “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!” and “People who don’t fail never tried,” but the only thing losing ever taught me was that I didn’t like losing much.
Novels are different though, and one thing I’ve learned this semester is that your protagonist should repeatedly fail — not in a “bungling buffoon” manner, but in a way that keeps them moving forward. For example…
Skip (my protagonist) is at a point where he needs to use a phone to make a call. He’s located at a park, so my original thought was to have him use a payphone. (He’s in Mexico.) Then I thought, “that’s too easy,” so when he goes to use the payphone he discovers that it only takes Mexican currency and all he has on him are US coins. My next thought was, since I’ve established that Skip can pick locks, he’ll just look through the cars in the parking lot and find someone’s cell phone there. It’s easy if he finds one, and easy if he doesn’t, so instead I added a cell phone inside a car and when Skip opens the door, the car alarm goes off. That causes him to run to a nearby park ranger station. No one is there, so Skip can just slip inside and use the phone, right? Well, sort of. After entering, he notices a small barking dog. Even though it’s Saturday and no one else was inside, the presence of the dog means someone is coming back. Soon.
And so on and so forth. I didn’t do this as well in the first half as I am in the second half, and eventually I will have to go back and even things out.