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Responses to Obstacles

For every action there is a reaction. A story obstacle comes along that requires your character to say or do something in response. What are the options?

Dick can’t change other people or the obstacle presented, but he can change his response to them.

If Jane is behaving inappropriately, Dick doesn’t have to give in. He can be firm and say ‘no’ or call her on her shenanigans. Jane is then forced to change her tactics because of Dick’s response.

This could be the resolution to your protagonist’s personal dilemma. Your protagonist could find the strength to change his responses to a person or situation. It can function at the scene level in any genre and the overall story problem level in a Literary tale.

If Dick wants something, he might start off with bribes. He could beg. If that doesn’t work, he’ll resort to threats. This isn’t just the method of an antagonist. It can be the methodology of any character at any point in the story.

Dick could try cajoling Jane into going to a restaurant because he has a surprise party planned. If she refuses, he might promise to do something she really wants to do. If Jane still says no, he might threaten to not do something she needs him to do. The motivation is benevolent rather than malign, but the tactics are the same.

The same motivators can work against a scene goal.

Sally might resist the goal because to do so results in a threat to her safety or to the safety of someone she cares about. 

There are times when it is healthy to say no. If Sally lives in a gang-infested neighborhood and wants to help the police or a friend, it might mean death or harm to her friends or family. Some characters would choose to do the right thing despite the consequences. Sally might give into her fears and refuse in order to protect herself or others. She may truly want to help the police, or hinder the antagonist, but the personal cost is so high she can’t.

Sometimes the best response is no response. No matter how hard someone tries to coerce your protagonist into doing, saying, or believing something, Dick can refuse to budge. He can walk away instead of arguing or reacting. This can extend the tension because the reader knows that the character will have to deal with the request another time. How many times will Dick be able to ignore the request?

Sometimes people change in response to your reaction to them. If Dick has a nagging, hysterical mother or spouse, he can finally learn to stand up to them and assert his independence. Dick changes the parameters of the relationship by asserting boundaries. The other person must change to accommodate the new rules or break off the relationship.

What if Dick is confronted with a toxic friend, family member, or lover who will never change? Dick can’t make them want help or make them better. He may have to walk away to preserve himself. It is a heart-rending choice.

By offering a variety of obstacles and responses, you keep the story flowing. Whether you script choppy rapids or a slow, sweet stream, if your reader enjoys the ride, you’ll earn a new fan.

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