Monday, February 18, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #4: Obstacles


Since last week I posted about Character Objectives, today I thought I'd write about Obstacles.  Without obstacles, it's a very short story indeed.  It'd be like The Simpons episode where Marge makes The Itchy & Scratchy Show stop using violence in the plot line, so the cat and mouse just sit on the porch drinking lemonade all day.

I'm not saying violence is an obstacle.  I'm just saying NO OBSTACLES = BORING STORY.

Let's look at some popular stories.

Who's the main character?  Cinderella
What does she want?  To go to the ball.
Why can't she go?  For starters her step-mother and step-sisters keep her so busy that she doesn't have time to prepare.  Then, when they do leave, she doesn't have a dress or shoes or transportation.  Obstacles.

Now, in a modern story, a fairy godmother who comes in and solves all the problems wouldn't really fly.  (Pun intended.)  We would want our Cinderella to be more pro-active and solve these problems for herself in some creative way.  But it's a fairytale, so, whatayagonnado?

Even the fact that the spell ends at midnight is an obstacle.
These are all probelms that the main character has to work through.

Let's look at something modern.


Who's the main character?  Wink
What does he want? He wants his ninja skills to be noticed
Why can't he?  All the things that he wants to do to be noticed  - yell Yahoo! or wear bright costumes - go against the core of being a stealthy, unseen ninja.

One of the first things Wink does is show off balancing on a ball and yelling "Yahoo!"
He gets sent home from ninja school.
Okay, he thinks, I can't yell. (Obstacle)  He makes another choice.  He wears a bright outfit.
Nope - can't do that either.  Too bright.  (Obstacle.)

I have Wink meeting a roadblock and then making another choice, meeting another roadblock, and so forth, until Wink finds the circus family and finds a place where he can be an awesome ninja and he can be noticed for it.

I love the short story COOKIES in FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER by Arnold Lobel because the obstacle in this story is that there aren't strong enough obstacles to keep Frog and Toad from eating all the cookies.

Who are the main characters?  Frog and Toad
What do they want?  To stop eating all the delicious cookies
What are their obstacles?  Everything they try to do to secure the cookies away - tie a ribbon around the box, put them on a high shelf - are too easily undone. 

So when you're writing your picture book story, remember to think about the things that are standing in your main characters way, and the different choices that character can make to get around or solve those problems.

But also remember that the way a character approaches a problem says a lot about that character.
Cinderella is a sweet girl.  She's not going to solve her problem by locking her sisters in a closet and stealing their gowns.  It would be a solution, but it would be out of character.  Just keep that in mind as you're coming up with ideas.

Happy writing and Happy President's Day!


Mirka Breen said...

Even quiet 'a Day in a life' stories are about overcoming or managing obstacles. Obstacles are the story.

Julie_c said...

Absolutely! Thanks, Mirka!

Anna Staniszewski said...

Great reminder! And, as Mirka said, even the quietest stories usually have obstacles.

Anonymous said...

Just popped over from the blueboards and I'm so glad I did! Great post!

Ruth Schiffmann said...

I always enjoy posts like this that analyze stories for what makes them work. Thanks!