[This is the third in a series of six posts started on December 2, 2020. We’re exploring Benjamin Percy’s foundational elements of story as found in the opening of his book Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction.]
Create Obstacles that Ramp Up Tension
So, you have the narrative goal and a character with the unwavering urgency to pursue that goal. If the character pursues and achieves their goal unhindered, there is no story. There is no action. There is no change in the character and there’s nothing to draw a reader in.
Instead, what must happen as the character unwaveringly pursues his/her goal? Bad things. And a lot of them. The more bad things and the worse they are, the better. We don’t want to simply pile on tragedy. This will create pity. Instead, with each obstacle, the character is shocked, processes, and regroups—renewing their resolve in the pursuit of the narrative goal.
This is why novels are set in wars—All the Light We Cannot See—or amidst deep societal and familial ideals and decorum—Blessings—or on the edge of apocalyptic events—Station Eleven. In these scenarios there are plenty of narrative goals, human urgency, and assured obstacles which create conflict and result in tension. Story will occur. The reader will be thrilled.