Okay, so it’s the morning of your big job interview. You’re ready to go, looking sharp in your navy power suit and your crisp white shirt. You take a last sip of coffee (liquid fortification) and dribble it down the front of your shirt. Crap! So you go change into something clean, and now you’re leaving ten minutes later than you wanted to for that job interview. You jump into the car, praying to god that traffic isn’t horrible, slide the key into the ignition and…. Nothing. The car won’t start!
Sweat pops out on your forehead. You check your watch, and try again, but of course, your car refuses to start. Why does this have to happen today of all days? You’re now officially late. If you were Clark Kent, this might be the part of your story where you rip off your suit and launch into the air, bypassing the downtown traffic to save the day. But you’re not Clark Kent. You’re stuck in your garage with a crappy car!
Hissing out a frustrated sigh, you slam your palm against the steering wheel, and pick up your phone to call AAA. Only your cell phone is out of juice! How can that be? You just charged the stupid thing last night!
The morning started off so bright and hopeful, and now, it’s like everything has gone terribly wrong. You’re going to miss the job interview, and that job you were hoping for is going to go to someone whose morning hasn’t been fatally cursed. To top it all off, you have no idea what’s wrong with the stupid car, and given the meager balance in your bank account, you pray that whatever has gone wrong, is simple and cheap to fix. With the way your morning has been going though, it’s more likely to be a total and complete engine failure than a dead battery! Your forehead falls against the steering wheel and you wish you’d never gotten out of bed.
Obstacles come in all forms. Chances are, in real life, you won’t have a day that starts off as bad as this one, but I’m using this example to illustrate a point. Obstacles are what makes fiction so fun. A story may start out with some kind of simple conflict. Andy Weir’s book, The Martian, starts out with a storm on Mars. It’s not supposed to be a big one, and the crew of astronauts think they can wait it out. Then reports of the storm gets worse. My first book, Deadly Lies, starts out with a passive-aggressive argument between a husband and wife. We’ve all argued with our significant others, and this argument is one they’ve had many times before, and as a reader, you know that whatever is broken between them is bound to get worse before the story ends.
Starting off with a smaller conflict pulls your reader into something they can relate to. Okay, I’ve never been an astronaut on Mars, but the situation is intriguing, and I’m pulled into the clever banter between the characters. My second book, In the Dark, begins with a guy who is about to meet his girlfriend’s circle of friends, and he’s nervous. Drinking too much. Situational social anxiety is something we can all relate to (some of us more than others).
As the story builds, the conflicts get bigger. This is not accidental. As writers, it’s our job to get you to care about the characters in our stories first and then turn the heat up to 11 (thank you Spinal Tap). The bigger the obstacles, and the more difficult they are to overcome, the more we root for the heroine and are satisfied when she triumphs in the end.
Everyone has obstacles, and how you overcome them speaks volumes about who you are. Did your first rejection stop you from trying, or did you push through to get a date with the girl of your dreams, or land the job, or publish your own darn book?
Real life obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. Earlier this hear, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, and as part of the symptoms that led to her diagnosis, her ability to walk was impaired. For someone who walked 2 – 3 miles every day, it was a staggering blow. But after surgery, treatment, some intensive rehab, and a whole lot of hard work, she’s walking on her own again and a situation that looked very bleak only a few months back now looks much more optimistic. In my eyes, that makes her a superhero.
So while obstacles make for good fiction, in real life, they test your mettle. Persisting in the face of diversity and overcoming setbacks makes you stronger. While I hope that the types of obstacles you face are more on the order of a car that won’t start than of the heart-wrenching kind, like a fictional hero they force you to dig deep and find the inner strength to keep going. Don’t kid yourself. Achieving your goals in the face of adversity, whatever that may be, makes you a superhero too!