As screenwriters, our job is to make our main character’s journey throughout the whole film as exciting and challenging as possible. If we don’t put any obstacles on the protagonist’s way, our film will be very short and most likely uneventfully boring. Film is kind of imitation of life, and real life is filled with obstacles at every turn.
According to Alex Epstein, there are three basic kinds of obstacles:
a. External antagonist
b. Intimate opponent
c. A tragic or comic flaw
In your script, you need at least one kind of obstacle, taking centre stage in your story. However, a lot of screenwriters throw all three obstacles (a, b, and c) at the protagonist to make their life as miserable as possible.
In real life, when we encounter problems, we try to solve them, which in reality means that bit-by-bit our problem/s (think obstacles in the film) will get resolved.
When you write a screenplay, you want to make your character’s problems as big as possible, possibly even coming all at the same time, until the dramatic climax at the end of the film, when all problems get resolved. Without all those piling up obstacles there would be no tension; and without the tension, your story can come across as flat.
By the end of act two, your main character should be in heaps of troubles, left on their own with no one around to help, no friends or allies. The antagonist(s) is (are) close by, and our hero has very little room to manoeuvre to save themselves.
So, the worse things you make for the main character, the sweeter and more exciting their success will be at the end of the story. So while creating obstacles for your characters, think about the above and see what you can do to make your character’s life as difficult as possible.
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