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Weekly Updates

  • Remember that you can add multiple people in DMs, so if you have a question for Morgan or me, you can message us both at the same time.
  • Regarding feedback, I've heard some of you fear commenting because you don't think you know the information or might be wrong. This is okay and natural. Use the small things you know and learn to build in that knowledge. You can also research before posting.
  • On UR Self-service, there is the mention of a final exam for this class, but this is incorrect. We have a final 3-5 page script assigned at the start of our last week, which can get you the same mark as the previous ones (2.5%). The only difference is that there is an opportunity to do a rewrite (another 2.5%) the week after class is finished. I hope that clarifies things.

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What are Inner Obstacles?

Last week, we talked about internal wants, and as I said earlier, inner wants are the other side of that coin.

Remember that obstacles are anything that stands in the way of the character's wants. This can include inner obstacles.

These obstacles can be anything that operates internally. Not externally, and not even in the body, but in the mind, heart, and soul.

For example, a person who wants love maybe has a fear of commitment standing in their way. Or for a person who wants power, morals may be the inner obstacle.

Although most inner obstacles will manifest themselves as an emotion, there is a chance that a character may not be conscious of what that internal obstacle is.

This could be illustrated by a character with a traumatizing event from the past that may have been blocked out yet still affects a character through a host of emotional or physical responses.

What are some Inner Obstacles?

  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Addiction
  • Grief
  • Longing
  • Past wound
  • Identity
  • Habit
  • Anxiety
  • Conscience
  • Impulses and Instincts
  • Emotions
  • A lack of knowledge
  • Helplessness
  • Mental health, such as depression or schizophrenia
  • Belief
  • Incapacity to realize free will and our power to choose.
  • Needs or wants can also be flipped to act as obstacles, such as revenge, control, etc.
  • Moral and mental weakness
  • The past or memories

How perspective affects obstacle and want

Notice how some of these obstacles can be viewed as positive or negative: guilt can be a good thing (leads to characters seeking redemption) or a bad thing (gets in the way of our goals). This is again the two sides of want (which pushes us to action) and obstacle (blocking our way).

This is why it's important to have clarity and understand what your character wants and what their obstacle is in relation to your hero and whether they overcome it.

One other caveat on perspective

What one person feels is a negative aspect, others may see differently.

For example, Hollywood has a bad habit of portraying people with disabilities as victims or inspirational figures or villains because of how they've dealt with their disability.

Yet, their disability is only one aspect of their character and not a single indicator. It isn't the singular thing that defines them. This is why writing from a point of experience can be very valuable. Otherwise, you may end up reducing a character to merely a caricature.

Showing inner obstacles

Like inner wants, we must show it through the actions and responses of our characters. This can occur in the relationships they have with themselves or the external world: family, friends, society, lovers, institutions, and the environment.

This also means similar rules apply.

Some different approaches to show want

1. A character takes action to navigate around inner obstacles through action and dialogue.

A character self-aware of their internal obstacle says and does things to move around the problem.

A character whose aware that they are scared of being left alone can take action towards changing that. (Also, please notice how this obstacle motivates their want.)

2. Internal obstacles create external want

Almost a subset of the first example, a character's want can be motivated by their obstacle. This could be similar to the horror movie where the monster pushes the teenagers to take action and survive.

Some of you likely noticed that your stories of inner want created inner obstacles—especially in stories where incidents of the past (sometimes called wounds, scars, or ghosts) are the source of your character's want.

3. A character responds to the inner obstacle

A more subtle approach has the character only responding to the obstacle.

For example, a script like Manchester by the Sea has the main character's grief (or emotional inability to handle the situation) make him respond by picking meaningless fights, be rude and unfriendly, pushing people away, drinks too much, be emotionally distant, hurt others to punish himself, hold himself back in his career, life, and relationships, and force into similar circumstances that draw out his struggle.

The big difference here is that the character isn't in control and is only responding to the obstacle and not taking action as in example #1.  Every time the character tries to move towards their want, they face an external obstacle leading to a destructive response.

Often in situations like this, the character doesn't realize this is happening or even the obstacle.

The constant push against the obstacle.

4. Through the actions of other characters

Another way to represent the obstacle is through the actions of other characters.

For example, in Shawshank Redemption, Red's goal is to leave Shawshank Prison, but his obstacle is his loss of hope. This is revealed through Andy's actions (which incidentally are all designed to express hope): working on the roof, building the library, finding his wife's killer.

Each time Andy fails to achieve hope, it is proof that Red is right...until Andy escapes. Now, he must face and overcome his main obstacle to get what he wants.

This is also a good example where inner obstacles can be shown through outcomes. Until either side wins (Andy or Red), the struggle continues. Even when Andy succeeds, we not must follow through on Red).

This is important to understand how this struggle between want and obstacle can shape and drive a larger story, as characters continually win or lose (lose the battle but not the war) but continue to try.

The constant back and forth of actions against the inner obstacle.

5. Other characters representing wants and obstacles

Many times in story, your character will face other characters—often friends or threshold guardians—that represent the internal fears or doubts a character feels.

In Star Wars, Luke's fears to fight in the Rebellion are voiced by his uncle, while Obi-Wan Kenobi echoes his desire to go. When he finally decides, he must battle against Stormtroopers and TIE fighters.

If you are interested in more of this, look at Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell or The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler.

6. Negative wants bring about positive inner obstacles

What about a character who wants to do something terrible, like theft or murder. The inner obstacle in a character could be positive, like guilt or self-consciousness. Therefore, the character may need to find a new want that aligns the two sides of themselves.

Other considerations

The natural response sequence

It's also good to return to my discussion about the natural response sequence when thinking about revealing inner obstacles.

An internal stimulus triggers an emotional response (internal), which leads a character to think and act, whether through action or dialogue.

I always encourage you not to signal emotional response because actors will find their emotional beats through a scene. Still, we can show the actions and dialogue that reveal emotion and push the story forward.

Digging deeper

When working on inner wants and obstacles, always be willing to dig deeper and ask yourself the actual reasons for your character's obstacle.

A handy technique for this is called the "5 Whys" to get to the heart of any problem.

By repeatedly asking why over and over five times, you will dig down to locating the actual reason.

For example, my character is unable to make friends.

  • Why?
  • Because he travels around a lot.
  • Why?
  • Because his parents struggle with work.
  • Why?
  • Because they fear becoming their parents.
  • Why?
  • Because both their parents divorced because they were too busy working.
  • Why?
  • Because they were avoiding each other.

Although unintended, notice how this story moved away from our main character to the parent's relationship's problems but still revealed the major inner obstacle of not loving each other (a definite problem for any relationship).

Negative Wants

One final point that I wanted to include here: be aware that some negative inner goals may seem like obstacles. (i.e., a character may wish to self-harm or destroy relationships).

This is the tricky aspect of want and obstacle, a part of the double-sided coin that I often talk about. What one might think is an obstacle may be a want, and vice-versa. As long as you know where your character's wants and obstacles lie, you have control of the narrative.

Always ask yourself: What does your character want? What obstacle stands in their way? What actions do they take? What are the responses? Do they get it or not?

Key Takeaways

  • In story, nothing should ever come easily.  It is about struggle—no matter what.
  • Remember, want and obstacle are two sides of the same coin. Be very clear about what your character's want is and what is their obstacle.
  • Adding inner want and inner obstacles is one way to add complexity to your story. But don't over-complicate things. Always default to WOARO to organize your thoughts.

Film 210 - Week 8 Exercise - Internal Obstacle

Write a 2-3 page script of any type that contains a character with an external or internal want struggling with an inner obstacle. The obstacle must manifest itself in external ways, and the character must show actions and/or responses that reflect this struggle.

Marking Criteria:

  • Does it achieve the purpose of this week's assignment?
  • Proper screenplay format (including active, present tense; sluglines; character introductions) and spelling, punctuation, grammar (5 mistakes allowed per script).
  • Proper use of WOARO. A character with a want must reach an outcome, either getting it or being incapable of getting it by the end.
  • Proper page count of the assignment.

Due: Sunday, Oct 25, 2020 at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).

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