General, writing

On Obstacles

Every so often, things simply go wrong. It’s a fact of life. No matter how well prepared you are, sometimes things don’t go the way they were supposed to. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. To illustrate and get into the idea behind the post, allow me to explain. 

Last week was supposed to be back to regular blogging schedule. I’d planned on prepping all of my prompts for November on the thirtieth and write a couple of posts to publish that week. And then in a two-fold incident of sheer dumb luck, my net went down.

I say two-fold because it actually went down twice for two separate reasons. The first being that my landlords are doing renovations. During renovations that should have actually improved internet connection throughout the building, they found out the state of the original wiring was much worse than they thought as it completely died. That did get fixed on Thursday afternoon and I unwisely decided to wait until Friday morning to get everything done.

That, it turned out, was a mistake. Why?

I use a Windows computer. There’s a known issue within Windows OS that sometimes causes problems with wireless adapters, such as the one built into my laptop. There’s multiple causes, only some of which I have the knowledge and resources to fix. The solution ended up being an external adapter.

Note however that there’s a detail in the second part of the problem that shouldn’t have kept me from happily plugging my posts and prompts into the blog mostly on schedule: this only affected my laptop. Both my phone and tablet were still connected. I’d completely missed the simple, obvious solution of using another device to get things done.

Which finally brings me to the point of this post: What is the last obstacle your characters encountered? What obvious solution did they overlook?

In plotting, there’s something known as the try-and-fail cycle. Your character tries to solve the problem and fails. A new solution is found and tried. This cycle helps drive the plot forward as well as increasing tension.

And one way to keep this cycle going is to block your characters from their goal—give them an obstacle to overcome. There might be multiple solutions to that obstacle, which is where character motivation can play into this cycle of trying and failing. The obvious solution might be something your characters don’t try. 

Why they don’t use that obvious and easy solution can vary depending on their motivations, flaws and goals. They may simply not think of it, or not take the character who suggests it seriously. Perhaps they’re too stubborn and are determined to make their first solution work.

Whatever their reasoning is, the solution they don’t take provides a source of tension, especially as other possible solutions continue to fail. It creates the question of if the unused solution is the one they need, which in turn, applies more pressure to your characters and their development.

Take a look at the try-and-fail cycles in your project. If any of these seem to be solved too easily, what are some other solutions your characters could try before arriving at the one that works? What would prevent them from trying the correct solution the first time?

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