A story is basically about a character getting from A to B and what happens along the way, with (hopefully) some sort of change or development of the character taking place. Readers won’t be interested in a character that nothing happens to and who is essentially the same at the end of the narrative as she was at the beginning. For characters to undergo that change they need to come up against a series of obstacles: things, people or situations that are going to stop them achieving their goals. This inability to overcome these obstacles creates plot and also conflict, both inner and outer. As we watch the character struggling with these obstacles we’re drawn further into the story. We want to turn the page to see if the protagonist is going to get over that next road block and to discover what others are placed in her way. If there are no obstacles there’s nothing to stop the protagonist reaching her goal and voila the story is over. The more obstacles we can put in the character’s way the longer it will take for her to reach her goal and the more complex the story will become.
But what sort of obstacles should writers consider? Usually these will develop organically as we get to know our characters and their backstories. Childhood and adolescent experiences can create psychological obstacles that prevent a character moving forward with their lives. Other characters will provide opposition and consequently conflict. Circumstances or events outside the character’s control can force her to make choices she might otherwise not have made. All these factors have the effect of delaying gratification for the protagonist – they haven’t yet reached that goal so they have to keep finding ways to get there and we as readers are right beside them.
In Blackwattle Lake the protagonist Eve wants nothing more than to sell the property she has inherited and leave town as fast as she can without getting involved. Obstacles arise in the form of old neighbours, unexpected events and a resurgence of memories that all serve to keep her at Mossy Creek Farm and force her to deal with her past.
In this excerpt from Chapter 1 Eve meets her first obstacle, her old neighbour: Harry stared at her and she met his gaze. He was an old man now, not the fit tanned “uncle’ who had carried her on his shoulders through the paddocks, lifted her over the fence so she could run all the way to his house, calling out to his wife, Aunty Margo, that the ‘princess’ was here for scones and cordial. She kept her eyes on him. Was he tearing up or was it the fading light playing tricks?
Shit, don’t so this to me, just let me get on with what I came here for and let everything else be.
“You’re not the girl you were raised to be, Angie. But I guess we knew that a long time ago. I came over here to see if we could bury the hatchet, see if I could give you a hand. But if you’d rather I leave you alone then so be it.”
“Thanks for the offer, Harry.” She made a point of dropping the ‘Uncle’ bit again, just as he’d made a point of using her old name.
“Suit yourself.” He turned and went back around to the driver’s door without even looking at her again.
This first obstacle faced by Eve, the antagonism of the locals to her return, is temporarily overcome in this scene when Harry finally leaves, handing Eve the key to the house she has been waiting for. But of course there’s more to come before Eve reaches her goal.
Or does she?
What books have you recently read where the character faces a series of obstacles? How did it impact on your enjoyment of the book?