Obstacles and complications…you gotta love ‘em

Men leaping over hurdlesWhenever I’m up to my ears in knotty problems and difficulties, my children like to remind me that’s the way I’d write it. We all want smooth sailing in our day to day living, but when it comes to story, we demand conflict. Without it, there simply is no story.

At its core, story is about someone who wants something and is blocked from obtaining his goal. Take away that blockage, and the story is over. It’s the journey through barriers, the race over hurdles, the battle through conflict that engages us as readers and keeps us moving forward over story ground.

That’s why obstacles and complications are crucial to a story’s success, and why we love them…in our fiction.

What’s an obstacle?

Road closedYou may lump obstacles and complications together as the same thing, but to a writer, there’s a distinction. An important one, to my mind. Opposite sides of the same coin, they serve slightly disparate functions and may differ significantly in impact.

An obstacle is something that stands between a character and her goal—she must find a way over, around, or through, that obstruction. Once she does that, she’s back on track. Imagine your character must reach the top of a mountain. She’s hiking her way up, and finds the trail has been wiped out by an avalanche.

That’s an obstacle. She’ll have to find another path, but once she does so, she’s on her way again, pressing upward to the goal.

What’s a complication?

Broken Train TrestleA complication, on the other hand, might look something like this. She falls and breaks her ankle. Now, she can no longer hike to her goal. Finding another path won’t help. She must change tactics entirely. Now, she hires a helicopter. Same destination, completely different method to get there.

An obstacle creates a temporary road block. A complication changes the game plan and can spin the story off in a whole new direction.

My new book is full of both

Steadman's Blind front coverI have a new thriller coming out in November, titled Steadman’s Blind. I’m excited to have you read it, and I’ve packed it full of both obstacles and complications. If you’ve read Nocturne In Ashes, you’re familiar with the groundwork. Nocturne shares the same time frame and setting as Steadman’s Blind—during the devastating aftermath of Mt. Rainier’s eruption. In Nocturne, a series of murders occurs and Steadman and Frost are dispatched to the scene of the crime. When you read Nocturne, you see it takes them three days to arrive. When you read Steadman’s Blind, you find out why.

Steadman’s Blind is the story behind those three days. And so much more.

The two stories do intersect during a couple of chapters, so if you’ve read Nocturne, now you’ll get a chance to see some of the same scenes through another character’s eyes. I think that makes it more fun and interesting for the reader, getting those different perspectives.

And though you don’t have to read both books to enjoy the story, I highly recommend it. Each can be read as a stand-alone, but it’s more fun reading them together!

How about you? Do you like a story full of obstacles and complications? Have you checked out Steadman’s Blind? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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