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Stirring the Plot: Knowledge Obstacles

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At each stage of the story problem, you have to decide what your character knows, when he knows it, how certain he is, and how hard it would be to convince him he is wrong.

Knowledge obstacles prevent understanding and complicate communication. 

How do your characters communicate?

Do they ask questions or give orders?

Do they listen to answers or brush them off?

Higher education teaches characters to think and debate, rarely does it teach them to get in touch with their feeling side. When it comes to our sweet sixteen, each could strengthen his weak side.

In previous posts, we discussed persuasion plot holes. Knowledge obstacles can create internal and interpersonal conflict. They often require your characters to persuade another to their way of thinking. When they are presented with knowledge obstacles, they can be forced to use persuasion tactics.

1. Missing information.

Some characters are fine with proceeding without all of the information. Others need lots of data to make decisions. Forcing opposites to work together or placing a character in a situation where they need to act outside of their comfort zone increases the tension.

2. Conflicting ways of obtaining information.

Some characters prefer facts, others prefer impressions. The dichotomy between solid and fuzzy data will make different characters uncomfortable. Pair opposites or force your characters to require the opposite of what they rely on. They can argue whether the information obtained was obtained correctly or incorrectly based on their opinion.

3. Receiving the same information but interpreting it differently.

Your characters can look at the same collection of facts, figures, or opinions but have completely different reactions to them. Their differences of opinion can cause low-level or explosive conflicts.

4. Conflicting information.

Information can come from conflicting resources, multiple resources, or inaccurate people. Muddying the waters will make some characters more uncomfortable than others. It will come down to who they trust or who they believe. How much do they like the person? What do they want to hear or believe? When the facts don't add up, it creates dissonance.

5. Inaccurate information.

Characters can be intentionally or unintentionally misled. How they feel about going forward with faulty information can result in guilt, recrimination, or resentment. It can result in a failure to meet their overall story or scene goals. This results in a need to gather new information or take action to fix the problem it has created. This moves the plot forward.

6. Inability to understand the information due to language differences.

Whether you are talking Mars and Venus, different ethnicity, or alien versus human, not being able to communicate effectively creates conflict. Attempts to overcome these differences can be comic, poignant, or frustrating.

7. Inability to deliver an important piece of information.

Your character can meet many obstacles when he needs to impart crucial information to another character. It could be lack of cell phone signal, being bound and gagged, or being physically prevented from approaching his target.

8. Knowing something he doesn’t want to acknowledge.

This can be a harsh reality for your character. As long as he refuses to accept the truth, he will be unable to solve the issue at hand.

9. Communicating what they know.

This comes back to persuasion techniques. He may not be taken seriously by his audience. He may not be considered a valid source of information. He may not be in a state to inspire confidence in his rantings.

10. Who he chooses to tell.

Your character can refuse to talk unless he is allowed to speak to someone he trusts. He can trust the wrong person. He can withhold important information which can lead to further conflict.

11. How and when he chooses to tell.

Delivery is half the battle. Does he try to appease or inflame the audience? Has he picked the worst possible moment to drop his bomb? Has he reached a point where he just can't keep the information to himself any longer?

Read more about persuasion techniques and pitfalls:

The Persuasion Plot Hole

Persuasion Tactics Part 1

Persuasion Tactics Part 2

Persuasion Tactics Part 3

For more information on crafting characters and plots check out my website and pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book.

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