Character Obstacles

ObstaclesA few weeks ago I wrote a post about using obstacles so that your character has to work harder to achieve her goal. You need to challenge your character with a plot problem that cannot be easily solved.  By continually throwing obstacles in her bath you notch up the tension and keep the reader reading.

Here are three different types of obstacles you can use to frustrate your main character.

The antagonist.  The tried and true source of many an obstacle is the antagonist.  The antagonist is the bad guy, or girl, who wants something that is in opposition to what your main character wants.  Because they cannot both succeed (or there would be no worthwhile obstacles), this person is a source of many of the problems in your main character’s life.  Using your antagonist to create an obstacle can mean that the antagonist beats your character to a vital clue, recruit an essential ally or simply make it to the treasure map first.

The protagonist.  Yep, that’s right.  Your main character can also create her own obstacles. Often this is due to some shortcoming on her part — she is afraid of the dark and thus refuses to go into the cave to find the map.  In fact, she decides that the map is unnecessary so that she doesn’t have to reveal this fear to her friends.  Lies come back to haunt her.  Secrets turn friend against friend.  Misunderstandings snowball.

The setting.  A wide variety of obstacles can come from your setting.  A storm takes out the electricity.  Tidal movements mean that a key path is open only certain times of day.  A setting based obstacle can be harmless but annoying, like an inconvenient long distance, or as devestating as an earthquake.  Who knows?  The setting may even become your antagonist in that it is constantly thwarting your main character (think the Perfect Storm).

If you have placed obstacles in your character’s way, but the tension doesn’t seem to rise, consider how to use a different type of obstacle to derail your protagonist’s plans. You can even create obstacles that originate within two of these categories — force your water-fearing protagonist to cross a log over a rain swollen creek, combining her fear with the setting.


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