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Stirring the Plot: External Obstacles

The External Layer of conflict can provide obstacles to overcome or ladders to climb. They can be provided by bureaucracies, laws, societal expectations, or authorities. 

Let's look at ten types of external obstacles.

1. Conflicting goals. The goals of the individual(s) is in opposition to their story world.

2. Inefficient practices, 
policies, or procedures. The characters are fighting for change, but rules get in the way. Do they break them or change them?

3. Needing consensus or permission from a superior to move forward. The character must find ways around the authority or convince him to change his mind.

4. Lack of funds to implement the plan. How do they get the money? Who do they get it from? What compromises must they make? What loops must they jump through to get it?

5. An action or decision that counters a religious or political agenda. You call illustrate the power of change or the tragedy of an insurmountable foe.

6. Prejudices against people, places, things, and behaviors. You can show character growth and a groundswell of change here.

7. Moral restrictions enforced by society based on the time and place in which he lives. Does he circumvent them or work to change them?

8. Taboos that forbid the action or decision and result in fatal or highly unpleasant consequences. Does he break them or take them down?

9. Police enforcement of the legal rules of the society your character lives in. What are the consequences for your character's actions? Does he serve time, become a suspect, or go on the run to achieve his goal?

10. Rulers (bosses, kings, dictators, starship captains, or tribal chieftains) can be fatal to cross. They set the tone and hand down the mandates for the world they control. Who rules your story world?

Their function can be to slam on the brakes or push the gas peddle as your character navigates his story world while attempting to solve the overall story problem. Along with motivated friends and foes, and the antagonist, external conflict can help you avoid sagging middles.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book

For free tools and an explanation of the conflict layering process, visit my website.

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