best practices character selection

Heroes Need Obstacles

We’ve already talked about naming relationships in stories. Now, in another entry for our series around storytelling, let’s dig into the valuable role obstacles play in telling good stories.

Obstacles make stories interesting

Humans connect to stories about other humans—as long as those stories have some struggle. Happy endings in stories become more valuable when they are harder to earn. Without a struggle, it can feel like the meat of the story, the adventure, is missing. Just look at the difference:

No obstacles:
Boy meets girl > boy and girl fall in love. Snooze.

Some obstacles:
Boy meets girl > boy falls for girl but she doesn’t fall for him > boy concocts plan to win girl over > boy fails > boy tries something bigger and better > boy wins girl over > boy and girl fall in love. Huzzah! Now we have a story!

As you can see, removing the darkness, the villains, or the hurdles removes the wild ride that makes a story compelling. For organizations telling their own stories, we root for them once we understand what they are up against. A story with obstacles may take longer to tell, but it makes victory that much sweeter.

Here are three things to keep in mind when identifying the obstacles in your organization’s story:

  1. Keep obstacles surmountable – When the obstacles are too tough to overcome, the reader loses interest because there is no way for the protagonist to succeed and therefore no reason to get invested. Would you rather watch a penguin cross the Sahara or a frozen island? If there is a chance for the protagonist to win, the reader will stick with it and root for the protagonist.
  2. Small objectives can feel big – Even if your story is about small things, it can still achieve big impact. For example, a small organization may not be able to eradicate a terrible nationwide disease on its own, but it can create a well in a village to protect the health of local families from the virus. This shows the reader how an organization is winning the fight against disease in a believable way, and how it’s connected to a larger cause.
  3. No one roots for the shoo-in – Shoo-ins make for predictable, boring stories. If the protagonist doesn’t struggle a little the audience disconnects. Superman can only stop so many bullets before we get bored—enter kryptonite. The human story is about trial, failure, wiser trial, and success. If the protagonist has all the answers, he will be less human and less likely to surprise us by the end. The organization that shows vulnerability, paired with drive and problem-solving, is the one that will have the crowd cheering and rooting for it at the end.

Do you know your kryptonite?

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