Write a Children's
Book in 14 Days
Obstacles at Your Characters
by Laura Backes
Successful children's fiction begins with
the main character.
Many writers create a biography or detailed character
sketch, listing every physical and personality trait
imaginable, so they have a clear picture of who their
character is. Then they give their main (and
important secondary) characters a list of goals.
--What does he/she want to accomplish?
--What does he/she need to do in order to grow as a
The goals must be believable within the realm of who this
character is. These goals are as important in
picture books as they are in novels. How your
character reaches his large and small goals provides the
bare bones of plot.
But in order for a story to be really interesting, your
character can't just think of a goal and then
effortlessly reach it. As a writer, it's your job
to throw obstacles in your character's way. By developing
obstacles that make sense, you add conflict and tension
to the plot. If you progressively raise the stakes
for your character throughout the story, you'll keep your
readers turning pages to see what happens next.
The first obstacle your character will encounter is that
of the critical situation.
This is the point in the beginning of your story at which
the character's life changes. Without this critical
situation, the character's life would have gone on as
before; but with it the character is forced to experience
the story's events and challenges. This critical
situation should relate directly to the character's
goals, creating major shifts in the character's life.
Once you select the critical situation, get out your list
of goals and select several that lend themselves to
creating opportunities for relevant obstacles throughout
the story. Some of these obstacles can be developed
* Does the character have to be somewhere at a specific
him late, or make him miss the appointment altogether.
* Does the character need to find something?
the search difficult or fruitless.
* Does the character need to communicate with someone?
the note destroyed by weather, stolen by a bad guy, or
misinterpreted by the receiver.
* Does the character need to be alone?
sure she's surrounded by people.
When developing an obstacle for your character to
overcome, you can examine the obstacle from various
1) The character can experience the obstacle himself, or
choose not to experience it, which might result in
different problems. For example, your character may
experience bicycle trouble, making him late to a vital
class or appointment, or he may choose not to participate
in a family gathering or holiday celebration.
2) The character can be the victim of the obstacle, with
the obstacle being done to or used on the character,
which requires a reaction from the character (i.e. your
character may get ambushed by the neighborhood gang).
3) The character can witness something which provokes a
reaction, decision or conflict. For example, she may
witness a robbery by the neighborhood gang, but some of
the members are her friends and she must decide whether
or not to report the incident to the police.
Another way of creating obstacles is to ask yourself the
1. What could go wrong when trying to achieve or obtain
2. Who or what could hinder progress toward this goal?
3. When could things go wrong? Name the worst times.
4. Where could things go wrong? List a location and three
obstacles that could occur.
5. How could things go wrong? List the process or
sequence of events, or the mechanisms involved.
Also think about the obstacle's placement in the
story. What needs to happen before the obstacle
takes place so it can have the most dramatic impact? What
should you foreshadow? And what information does the
reader need to make this obstacle interesting and
Finally, does anything about this obstacle lead the
character into the next goal and the next obstacle?
Ideally, the character runs from one problem to another
until finally he either succeeds or fails at his goal.
Remember, for an obstacle to work it must be logically
and intricately connected to everything else that's
happening in the story. But that doesn't mean it
has to be predictable. The obstacles can be
humorous, suspenseful, and above all, surprising.
Then you'll have characters your readers will want to
Copyright Children's Book Insider, LLC
Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book
Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For
more information about writing children's books,
including free articles, market tips, insider
secrets and much more, visit Children's Book
Insider's home on the web at http://write4kids.com