Award-winning author
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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

15 May 2015

Complication cards, part three

 Ines Johnson is here for her third (and last) day of her series on complication cards. Today, she shows you how to put together what you did in the exercises in part 1 and part 2 to summarize the nut of your story or scene on a single index card.

Complication Cards, Part 3: The Scene
by Ines Johnson

You’ve discovered your character’s need and potentially their want, which is a false goal. You’ve learned about the four types of obstacles that can obstruct your character on the way to achieving their goals and filling their need. Now, to build a heart-pounding story where you send your character through the toughest obstacle course you can imagine, you should map out a blueprint for the course.

Four elements of a story

*Hero/heroine: Primary character looking to fill the void in their life

*Want: A false goal that the hero or heroine initially believes is their path to wholeness

*Obstacle: One of the four obstacles opposing the hero or heroine

*Need: The true goal of the hero or heroine, the thing that will satisfy their void

Examples of obstacle cards for different kinds of complications

Antagonist as complication
In the Cinderella adaptation Ever After, Danielle (heroine) works tirelessly to gain acceptance (want) from her stepmother (antagonist) until she realizes her family of friends, including the Prince, love her unconditionally (need).

Physical world as complication
In “The Little Mermaid” adaptation Splash, Madison (heroine) leaves the sea to be with Allen (want), but when her legs get wet and her fins come back (obstacle), she’s forced to tell Allen the truth of her existence in the hope that he’ll spend forever with her under the sea (need).

Inner or psychological problem as complication
In the unconventional fairy tale Shrek, Princess Fiona (heroine) hopes to be rescued by a knight in shining armor (want) who will break her curse (obstacle) until she realizes that true love is “color” blind (need).

Mystic force as complication
In The Frog Prince, Tiana (heroine) dreams of opening a restaurant (want), but her dream takes a slight detour when she’s turned into a frog (obstacle) along with Prince Naveen and learns to seek and take help from others (need).

Now it’s your turn. Fill out your own obstacle card for your story. If you want to take it a step further, fill out a card for each scene!


Ines Johnson writes romantic erotica, paranormal romance, and fairytale-retelling romance novels. You can find her Website at Part one of her newest romantic erotica book, The Loyal Steed, is at Amazon here. The complete serial can be preordered here.

14 May 2015

Complication cards, part two


I welcome back author Ines Johnson for the second of her three-part guest post on complication cards—an index card that summarizes the heart of a scene or story. Today, she describes how a character journeys from having wants to knowing what they need.

Complication Cards, Part 2: The Obstacle Course
by Ines Johnson

Yesterday we learned that characters have holes that only needs can fill. Before a character can see their need, they have to yearn after a want, which takes them on a bumpy ride to nowhere.

This obstacle course contains physical and/or internal complications that force the hero or heroine to make decisions that produce dramatic action.

There are four kinds of obstacles.

The antagonist (bad guy)

A specific antagonist lends clarity and power to the dramatic structure because his primary function is to oppose the protagonist. He doesn’t necessarily have to be evil, but he should personify the protagonist’s obstacles.

Example: Cinderella’s wicked stepmother

Physical Obstructions

Physical obstructions are just what they sound like—material barriers standing in the way of the protagonist. These can be rivers, deserts, mountains, a dead-end street, or a car causing a crash—anything that presents a substantial obstacle for the protagonist.

Example: Arielle’s fin

Inner or Psychological Problems

Inner obstacles are intellectual, emotional, or psychological problems the protagonist must overcome before being able to achieve their goal. For example, dealing with fear, pride, jealousy, or the need to mature fall into this category.

Example: Fiona’s appearance (in Shrek)

Mystic Forces

Mystic forces enter most stories as accidents or by chance, but they can be expressed as moral choices or ethical codes that present obstacles. They can also be personified as gods or supernatural forces that the characters have to content with.

Example: Tiana’s magical transformation into a frog (in The Frog Prince)


Which of these obstacles will your character face? Will they face more than one type of obstacle during the course of the story?

Tomorrow (Friday), we’ll put it all together—the character, need, and obstacle—into a scene card.


Ines Johnson writes romantic erotica, paranormal romance, and fairytale-retelling romance novels. You can find her Website at Part one of her newest romantic erotica book, The Loyal Steed, is at Amazon here. The complete serial can be preordered here.

13 May 2015

Complication cards, part one


Today, author Ines Johnson returns with a three-part guest post on boiling down the meat of your story so that it fits on a single index card. The method can also be used for individual scenes. Today, she analyzes the differences between what a character wants and what that character needs.

Complication Cards, Part 1: The Character with a Hole
by Ines Johnson

All characters have holes (notice it rhymes with goal). When you open the first chapter of a book, you find a human being who believes they have a void and are lacking something crucial in their lives. Perhaps it’s the dream job, or the right social circle, or their mother’s approval. Maybe it’s love.

Rarely do you enter the world of a character who finds themselves whole. A part is usually missing. For the next tens of thousands of words, you embark on a journey with that character to fill that void.

Characters fill these holes in one of two ways; with a want or a need.

Remember when you were young and you wanted the fancy pair of jeans? Think Brenda in 90210. Fresh from the Midwest, she was thrown into the dangerous waters of the Beverly Hills elite, and her working class parents couldn’t afford the patchwork, ripped jeans that cost the same as a car payment. But Brenda wanted those holey jeans so that she could fit in with Kelly and Donna. In the eyes of her mother, Carol, there was a need for a new pair of pants for Brenda to wear to school, and that’s what Brenda got. Now if we watched that 20-year-old episode, we know what Brenda did to those new pair of jeans: She made holes in her jeans to fill her social void.

You might want a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes, but in the end you need a pair of functioning heels to go with that cute dress.

A want is a false goal, a red herring that throws both the reader and the character off the true course that will fill the character’s hole. It takes some time and some bumps in the road before the character realizes their want is not likely what they need. The need perfectly fills the void the character has been experiencing.


Take a look at your main character(s). What is it that they need to be whole again? Now consider whether it would serve your story for your character to have a false goal during much of the book that keeps them from seeing their true need.

Tomorrow (Thursday), you’ll learn the four types of obstacles that a character might face during their course of their quest for their need.


Ines Johnson writes romantic erotica, paranormal romance, and fairytale-retelling romance novels. You can find her Website at Part one of her newest romantic erotica book, The Loyal Steed, is at Amazon here. The complete serial can be preordered here.

12 May 2015


My most exciting news today is that my 2014 historical novel, Claimed by the Enemy, is a finalist in the National Readers' Choice Awards in the "Novel with Romantic Elements." I was happy to see that my friends Jennifer Apodaca and Debra Mullins were finalists in other categories.

Winners will be announced in July at the Romance Writers of America National Meeting, which unfortunately I won't be attending.

Nat Ch Villa. Used under CCA 2.0 license
 In other, sillier news, there are now only two degrees of separation between singer Beyoncé and me. She and her husband, Jay Z, bought the Garden District house in which my husband and I had an apartment this past fall when we were in New Orleans. Read more here:é-buy. (Our apartment was one of the three mentioned at the end of the article.)

ADDED LATER: A friend sent me a link to an article with a gallery of four pictures. Our apartment isn't pictured, but the roof garden is, along with cool shots of the interior. See them at