Monday, September 12, 2011

How Many Obstacles Are Too Many Obstacles?

Tip of the Day: Editor and writer Rhonda Stapleton has a great post up about what editors are looking for in your main character in the first three chapters. And Karen Berger at CreateWorkLive blogs here about getting rid of dead wood words in your final polish.

So here I am trying to get my characters from point A to point B, and like a good little writer, I am throwing in lots of obstacles. They've lost something important, they've gotten caught stealing, they've been tied and gagged, they've been chased. But it's obvious to me that they have to get to point B sometime, because point B is going to be an interesting place. My readers want to be at point B. How much patience are they going to have if I throw in yet another obstacle?

Because this could go on endlessly, really. Someone can twist an ankle, break a knee. They could get caught yet again. Do I keep letting them get just a little closer to point B and then yanking it out from under them? More importantly, how much of this will a reader tolerate?

I still remember trying to read Lord of the Rings. 150 pages for the hobbits to make it to the tavern to meet the wizard, and then the wizard wasn't even at the fracking tavern. I never picked up that book again.

See, the longer it takes me to get to point B, the more point B has to be Super Fantastic Awesome. But if it's too easy to get to point B, I have a boring book with no tension. How do you find the middle ground?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


Christina Farley said...

THAT is a very good question. I suppose that each event should lead the character closer to the goal, while developing that character's inner conflict as well. Isn't there something about 3's? I don't know. I just usually hit them until I've completed my character's inner struggle. Does that make any sense?

Kate Fall said...

Yes, actually that makes a lot of sense. If my character isn't getting any more personal growth out of additional obstacles, it's probably time to stop.

Andrea Mack said...

Kate, what you said about the Lord of the Rings made me laugh. I have read it all, but I confess I skimmed alot of the boring (overly descriptive parts).

I also immediately thought of how, the more struggle there is, the better Point B has to be, to keep it in balance. I find that when I revise, I often end up cutting out some of the obstacles and stretching out some of the ones I've left, to give them a stronger impact.

Kate Fall said...

Yes, the magic of revision. That's what has me nervous about this one, too. Are some of these problems being resolved too quickly because I'm impatient to get to Point B already? I know I've gotten feedback that one problem was solved too easily, so to fix it, I'd need even more word count to get to Point B.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

"150 pages for the hobbits to make it to the tavern to meet the wizard, and then the wizard wasn't even at the fracking tavern."

I wish I could remember who said this originally, but a while ago, I read some great writing advice about how we shouldn't just throw annoyances at our characters, like flat tires, to keep them from their goals and drag things out. Whatever stands in their way should be a true consequence of their own flaws and/or the villain's actions, so it will be essential to the story and interesting in its own right.