Creating Obstacles

The plot of a novel isn’t simply what happens. It’s what happens—and how characters react to it. The simplest understanding of plot is as a character’s thwarted yearning. The best plots derive themselves from a character who wants something—and wants it badly—but something stands in the way. The push-pull created by thwarted yearning propels your story forward. Creating obstacles is key to your story building.

In this way, you can see how plot arises organically from your character’s desires. Think of how boring Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet would have been had Romeo and Juliet gotten together with the joyous approval of their respective families. Think of how tiresome The Great Gatsby would have been if Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan rekindled their love again with no complications. Snoozefest. These stories certainly would not have become the ones that have captivated audience for years upon years.

At these early stages of your novel, you must think about what it is your protagonist wants most in the context of your fictional world—and what will stand between the character and what he wants. These obstacles will become important not only to your plot, but also to your narrative arc.

A simple lesson: As soon as your protagonist gets what he wants, the novel will be over. Think about how you sustain the forward movement of the novel by creating obstacles to your character’s yearning.

Discussion Questions:

  • Where do you get your best ideas for writing?
  • How much of your real life figures into your writing?
  • How much do you think about the idea of “your reader” as you write?

This partial lecture came from the course Build Your Novel Scene by Scene


  • How to develop “novel worthy” ideas;
  • How to create compelling, complex characters;
  • The fundamentals of narrative arc;
  • Techniques for outlining your novel;
  • Proven strategies for writing your novel, start to finish, scene by scene

Learn more about the Build Your Novel Scene by Scene Workshop.

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