Join Mark Tapio Kines for an in-depth discussion in this video The need for obstacles, part of Screenwriting Fundamentals.
I have already mentioned obstacles a few times in this course. But I want to take a moment to really make it clear how important they are in creating good drama and why your screenplay needs to be jam-packed with them. One of the worst questions a screenwriter can hear starts off with the words, "Why don't they just..." meaning, why aren't your characters pursuing the easiest and most obvious solution to their problem? Why don't they just call the police? Why don't they just tell each other how they feel? There's always some wise guy who's going to ask. And if you get that question, it probably means you didn't adequately address it in your script. So during the writing process, you have to be your own wise guy, so to speak, and ask yourself that question constantly. And each and every time you need to come up with an answer that is both logical and concise. I have seen a lot of screenwriters avoid this because they're trying to force their story or a character to do something that might look cool but doesn't make any sense. They hope nobody will notice, but people do notice and then somebody asks, "Why don't they just..." So you need to be tough on yourself as a writer. Don't let yourself try to get away with an action or behavior that you can't logically and concisely explain. That's why obstacles are so useful. Obstacles provide explanations, solid reasons why a character doesn't just do the easiest and most obvious thing. Why don't they just call the police? Because the phone is dead or because they are in the middle of nowhere or because the police themselves are the bad guys. Once the question has been answered, your audience won't bring it up again, and you can get on with your story. Physical obstacles provide the easiest explanations. Why don't I just walk out my front door? Because there's a zombie in the way. But emotional obstacles are more difficult to clarify. Why doesn't that timid woman just overcome her shyness? Well, you see in real life, it will be long story. But in a screenplay, there needs to be a logical and concise reason. Something you can show without 15 minutes of exposition. We see the timid woman tell a joke or try to flirt only to be ignored or made fun of. Or we see her family and friends, and they are a bunch of loud mouths who never let her speak. We see something like that, and we instantly understand why she can't just overcome her shyness. We get it. Obstacles add clarity to your story, and you should always welcome clarity. Now I have heard some writers say, "But I want my audience to be confused." Don't use that excuse. If your audience starts asking, "Why don't they just..." it means they're no longer emotionally invested in your drama and they're picking apart your work as a screenwriter. And there are basically two kinds of obstacles: those that are impossible to overcome, and those that must be overcome. The impossible ones are those that would give your characters an easy way out of the conflict if they were able to overcome them. You have to make them impossible because otherwise your characters would take that easy way out and your story would be over. All the other obstacles in your drama can and must be overcome. The harder it is for a character to do that, the more suspenseful and unpredictable your story will be. Speaking of characters, remember that an antagonist is merely an obstacle with his own agenda. And antagonists fall into the same two counts: those who are impossible to deal with, and those who must be dealt with. Okay, one more thing about characters, but this is important, the most useful and most common obstacle in drama is another character's resistance. In other words, if your protagonist wants someone's help, that someone is usually very reluctant or maybe even hostile. This obstacle is tailor-made for drama. Many great movies have their protagonist spending most of their time trying to convince other people to help them. Character resistance is an incredibly versatile obstacle, use it whenever you can. So to wrap things up, your screenplay is like one big obstacle course for your protagonist. To get to the end, they have to jump through a bunch of hoops and climb a bunch of walls. Especially in Act 2, you have got a lot of territory to cover. So throw in as many obstacles as possible, that's how you give your story more substance. Plus, we identify with your protagonist more when we see them facing obstacles. We get caught up in the drama and your story becomes more memorable. It's a win-win situation for everybody.
- Finding the drama in your story idea
- Structuring your story into three acts
- Defining your protagonist's short-term and long-term goals
- Creating obstacles for your characters
- Understanding the importance of suspense
- Timing your plot twists
- Formatting your script
- Registering for a copyright