Perhaps you're so busy protecting your protagonist from life's pain that you're interfering with what life needs to throw at them to make your story snap.
You don't want your story to become one long drawn-out drone, like a visit with Aunt Edna on a Sunday afternoon sipping tea. What could be more deadly dull?
If your goal is to keep your readers turning the pages it's important for you to remember your protagonist is on an emotional journey. He or she needs to grow and that growth which is so desperately needed can be frightening and painful - and no doubt something your protagonist will resist unless you, as the writer, force them into it.
You are the great God or Goddess of this realm you've created, so act like one! Bring on the suffering, the pain, the fear, the dread that nothing will turn out for the good and we're definitely visiting the dark side.
Think about your story and consider how 'bad' you as overseeing God or Goddess need to be. If it's a dark, heavy story your weapons are things such a death, terrible injury, psychic destruction or other horrorific events. If the story is in a lighter vein you could go for loss of a job, loss of a close relationship or possible humiliation. Calibrating is up to you, but it has to be tough on your beloved creations in order to keep your readers turning those pages and have your ending be a satisfying one.
So here are a few ideas to help you "hurt the ones you love":
- Put your hero or heroin in a place where he or she has to choose between to evils
- Have a ticking clock timeframe? Unexpectedly move it up, cutting the time to accomplish goals. If you don's have a ticking clock, maybe you should introduce one.
- Take away your protagonist's indispensable ally. Kill off a sidekick, let him or her suffer betrayal by a friend. Really make it hurt.
- Really make your villain rock - make that person seem more powerful than your hero - it'll make your hero more heroic in the end.
- You know your protagonist's Achilles' heel. Your readers should too. Now put an arrow through it like the original Achilles!
- Expand the possibility of disaster by putting others' lives in the balance; by making your hero/heroine responsible for those people.
I know you can think of many more. Ponder books you've read and what the writers have done to their characters to make the story more interesting and crackling. Really make your characters earn their keep.
And you writers out there - more suggestions to help your fellow writers? Post 'em here in comments. Love to read them.