Monthly Archives July 2013

Critique Technique, Part 16: Unclear or Insufficient Obstacles

Back in Part 9 I wrote about conflict. One form of conflict for characters is the obstacles they face: the things that keep them from achieving their goals. Obstacles come in many forms: physical objects, situations, people, animals, laws, psychological or emotional blockages, and more. Pretty much anything can be an obstacle given the right circumstances.

That, unfortunately, can be a problem as well as an opportunity.

The “Right” Obstacles

Black and yellow concrete barriers

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Authors have the opportunity to select the obstacles their characters will face. Pick the right ones and the story’s tension and conflict ratchet right up. Pick the wrong ones, though, and the reader is left scratching his head.

So what makes an obstacle “right?” H...

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Critique Technique, Part 15: Unclear Character Goals

A story’s characters have—or should have—a variety of wants, needs, desires, and longings. Those words may seem to be similar, but the shades of difference between them are important.  Goals—things a character hopes, intends, or needs to achieve or accomplish—make those wants, needs, desires, and longings real. In a romance, the heroine has a goal to catch that special man; in a spy thriller, the spy has a goal to do his job without getting caught; in a literary novel, the protagonist may have a goal of reaching an understanding of a long-ago relationship gone bad.

Football goal posts
Image courtesy of ryasick via

Levels of Goals

In his excellent book Scene and Structure, Jack Bickham writes about characters having goals at the story, chapter, and even scene level...

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Critique Technique, Part 13: Timing the Reveal

In Part 9, I wrote about timing as it related to conflict. But there’s another layer of the writing onion that I need to discuss: timing as it relates to revealing character. I have a feeling this is one of those things that many writers, especially new ones and “pantsers” (writers who don’t plan out their stories in advance, but instead write “by the seat of their pants”), don’t think about. I admit I hadn’t, and I wouldn’t be surprised if experienced writers, whether they outline, stitch together scenes written in random order, or pants-it, do this more subconsciously than consciously, no matter what genre they write in.

Examining whe...

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