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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

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.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Never used cards like this. I know some folks who do something similar. I probably tend to be more organic, which maybe explains why I'm so slow.