Thursday, March 4, 2010

Action-Reaction Using External Obstacles and Internal Changes

Missy here. Last week I mentioned working through part of Dianna Love's and Mary Buckham's book, Break Into Fiction. I wanted to build on what I said last week about external obstacles.

Today I wanted to talk about how the external obstacles our characters face create internal changes in the character. It's kind of an action-reaction thing. One obstacle leads to a change in the character (or forces a change), which leads to a different obstacle causing an internal change... And hopefully each obstacle is harder to overcome than the previous one.

Let's look at an example from my last release, A Forever Christmas. I didn't do this exercise while writing, so I'll be looking back to see how it would work for that story.
My heroine, Sarah, is grieving. Her kindergarten student died not long before Christmas, and she's gone home to her parents' house with the goal of getting away for the holidays, of resting and trying to heal. (My overall story goal for her is to learn to forgive and learn to trust again.)
--First major obstacle: She gets roped into helping an old friend by taking over directing the Christmas pageant.
--Internal change: She has to overcome her lethargy to help a friend out of a jam.
--Next major obstacle: Two of the kids involved in the pageant are the sons of her first love--who betrayed her years before. She's never gotten over him. And he's now single.
--Internal change: She sees problems between the dad and boys and decides she wants to help, even though it's hard on her to be around the dad. She tries to be strong enough to do what needs to be done. She tries to remain objective and not get too involved. (She would obviously have trust issues.)
--Next major obstacle: After spending so much time with the hero and his family, she begins to fall for him again. Just as she's admitting to herself that she's falling for him, her dad tells her something about the past that devastates her (no spoilers here!). :)
--She doesn't think she can ever forgive either man. But she does forgive her dad. And eventually, she learns that she can forgive the hero, too.
This is simplified, and I may not remember everything quite right. I haven't read the story since I did edits on it ages ago. But I think you can get the idea. Your heroine needs to face obstacles, grow and change, then face even bigger obstacles, and on and on until she finally grows enough to claim her happy ending.
Do you have that kind of set up in your story? Do you have an action, that leads to a reaction, that leads to another action...?


  1. I'm finally here! I've been gone literally all day long.

    Anyone want to share about escalating conflict in your story?

  2. I'm totally working on that now. I think the heroine has that arc, but my secondary character is weak and needs to be corrected. So I'm going to put this to work on the subplot too.

  3. This escalating conflict thing always plagues me. Sometimes it's easier if I don't over-analyze it but just apply Donald Maass's advice: Make it worse!

  4. Missy, I LOVED A Forever Christmas.

    great advice. These obstacles help move the story forward and help us as the reader root for the characters.

    And yes, you got your story right ;)

  5. Great post, Missy. I'm like heroine's storyline is solid, but my hero needs work. I'm pulling my hair out over this now in revisions.

    Thanks for the info.