So a few weeks ago, one of the people in my writers' group asked if she could do an email interview with me for her online magazine, Pif. I said sure, and so here it is! Her questions were great, and they got me thinking quite a bit.
One of the things that annoys me about certain games is that there is a "right" way to win - if you follow these steps, then you'll win nine times out of ten. To me, that stops being a game and starts being a puzzle, and after I've solved a puzzle once, I'm less inclined to solve it over and over. Being able to play a game multiple times and getting a different result each time (or even having a similar result via a completely different path) makes it more interesting to play.
For me, reading and writing are similar - if there's one "right" way for a character to reach their goal, then it stops being interesting to read or to write. And if it's not interesting to write, it's definitely not going to be interesting to read. Honestly, though - if Frodo had managed to make it all the way to Mordor and destroyed the ring by just following one path, no obstacles, well, the series would have been much shorter, and it just wouldn't have been all that exciting. "Frodo walks to Mordor and chucks the One Ring into Mount Doom" just doesn't have the staying power of the full story.
It may all be a part of the inherently mean streak writers need to have, but things have to be difficult for the characters. Throwing obstacles in the way, making them zig when they thought they would zag, giving them side quests in order to complete their main goal - all of that makes for a more entertaining read. And there really is something satisfying about finding new ways to torment fictional characters - it's cathartic, really.