Better Storytelling: Conflict Obstacles
Most obstacles to a character’s goals are external and looking to block him or her from getting what (s)he wants or needs.
What about internal obstacles? Like anxiety?
I said most–not all. Like humans, characters will have internal obstacles. But, good stories have more tangible aspects.
In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men, George had goals and desires and he surely worked hard to reach them. However, working for money wasn’t a problem for him. The real obstacle in the story was trying to find a place where he and Lenny could be “anonymous” if you will. Lenny stayed in trouble, so it was hard to keep a job long enough to save the money they needed.
Why even bother?
Either way, having an obstacle creates an obvious conflict in the character’s life and forces him/her to make a decision that will send him/her on a journey of change and understanding–for the characters and readers.
If Lenny didn’t stay in trouble, the story would be pretty boring. You’d basically have two guys working hard every day and complaining about why life sucks. That’s about it. Eventually, they’d save up the money and they’d live independently. Yay? It’s because they have to keep on the run, find a new start, and spend their hard earned money to survive that keeps putting them back at square one.
When they get sent back in their plans, it makes Lenny’s adventures and actions that much more tense, because we know this can possibly do it again. We feel a connection with Lenny because he doesn’t mean harm, and we connect with George because he seems justified in his anger; who wouldn’t be mad that they work so hard and keep ending back at the beginning for something he didn’t do? That challenge to their goals makes the story interesting because we root for the characters to make it.
So, how do we do this?
You may know all the different “types” of conflicts. Through those, that’s where you create your obstacles, like so:
- Man v. Man – Obviously, your first offense is another character. Maybe (s)he wants what your protagonist wants, has taken it, is fighting him/her, has caused trouble, is trying to kill your protagonist. The list is endless here.
- Man v. Self – This is the other common one. This is the struggle your character has on his/her own. Doubt, self-esteem, curiosity, selfishness, whatever keeps your character from accomplishing his/her goal that happens in her body, including illness.
- Man v. Society – As we move into more dystopian literature, you have more of this conflict where your characters are up against some aspect of your setting context–norms, culture, history. They aren’t fitting into the mold, and that’s becoming a problem.
- Man v. Nature – Now, this one is a little more limited. When characters go against nature, you’re either dealing with something like supernatural nature or weather. That’s all I’ve really found. If you can think of anything else, definitely let me know!
- Man v. Supernatural – This can cover a breadth of things, including magic and religion. Anything that is not natural to man falls into this category. This is where many superheroes and villains fall. This is also where all of the major trilogies are.
So, you think you got it. Feeling like you have an idea of what you want to do now?
What kind of complications have you seen in other good stories?
Let us know in the comments below, and on social media, of course. Then, sign up for more info about good writing to the right.