Plot, Plot, and more Plot! Part Four: The Importance of Obstacles

You should, by now, be keenly aware that you will have no plot, and therefore no story, unless you have obstacles standing in the way of the central character.

One of the problems you could encounter at this stage is deciding on the degree of difficulty involved in these obstacles and the level of hardship encountered in overcoming them.

You may initially think that it would not do to make the obstacles themselves too difficult to overcome, as this would make the plot unrealistic. This is not usually the case.

The tendency is for novice writers to lean too far the other way and make the problems too easy to solve and therefore too easy to overcome. Difficulties of this sort are dealt with almost without any degree of struggle. The hero gets what he wants practically
handed to him on a plate.

This makes for a dull and uninteresting plot. Children do not want to read incidents where the hero sails through without any effort. The result would not be a readable story.

You must make your obstacles sufficiently difficult for them to present real problems for the central character, and by the same token, the solutions must be equally well thought out in order to hold the readers’ attention.

They must identify with the problems and their solutions. They should be going through a similar thought process to the central character, attempting to solve the problem for themselves. When eventual triumph comes, it is even more satisfying because the readers have been involved in every incident on the page.

You should be aware of two further things regarding obstacles.

Firstly, they should be varied throughout the story. You do not want your hero almost eaten alive by a shark on half a dozen separate occasions during the course of one story. Even the most ardent shark fan might become a little bored by the repetition in such a plot. You could vary it to three sharks, one octopus and a giant squid but even that would be tiresome.

Secondly, the obstacles should increase in difficulty as the plot progresses and the tension increases. This is a fundamental principle of plotting. It culminates in the climax, or last major incident, in which all loose ends should be tied up and everything accounted for.

If the story is to be successful, the climax and all the preceding obstacles should occur naturally as the plot unfolds. Any attempt to contrive an obstacle because your plot needs one is a sure sign that the plot is weak. Not only this, but your young readers will immediately spot that the action has been falsified and will not accept it.

We continue with: Plot, Plot and More Plot in Part Five: Obstacles Strengthen Character where we look at how obstacles can also strengthen your characterisation.

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