Lesson: Want, Obstacle, and Outcome

Audio Version


In this lesson, we dig deeper into WOARO, how it drives stories, and consider some of the relationships between want, obstacle, and outcome.

A story begins with a conflict

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Conflict = want + obstacle

Want is the thing that drives your characters through the story and acts as a flag to signal when the story is complete.

For example, a character wants a treasure, and we know the story is complete when they either get it or they don’t.

But want isn’t enough.

We also need an obstacle. An obstacle is a thing that stands in the way of your protagonist’s want.

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If either of these two elements is missing, then you have no conflict, which means no story.

Want = Obstacle

Want and obstacle are two sides of the same coin that drive the story's action.

Both your protagonist and antagonist are driven by their wants, putting them in direct conflict with each other.

For example, your protagonist wants the treasure, but so does your antagonist. This puts them in conflict, and they are each other’s obstacles.

Also, remember that both characters must want their individual goals badly enough to be willing to do anything to achieve them. If there is a chance they can walk away, again, there is no conflict.

And lastly, either want or obstacle can begin your story. Either of these will light the fuse that propels the story forward:

  • The adventurer wants to get the treasure (want)
  • The teenagers want to survive the monster (obstacle).
Have you considered the wants and obstacles of all your characters?

Conflict must start as soon as possible

Often writers want to set up their story. This often means they want to introduce characters, settings, or situations before the real conflict of the story begins.

However, this is telling, not showing, and it slows the progression of your story.

In reality, all characters want something from the very beginning. In fact, they probably want something before your story even begins.

Instead of worrying about the set-up, focus on building up your characters' conflict.

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Think past the edges of your story. What did your characters want before your story began?
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Three essential criteria for a good antagonist:
1. The antagonist must be equally matched or stronger than your protagonist. But the hero must have the means to be capable of fighting them.
2. You want an antagonist willing to fight to the end for what they want.
3. Most importantly, the antagonist's want should be the protagonist's obstacle.

Endings

Due to dramatic conflict, our characters must be willing to reach or exhaust the limits of their abilities and resources to get what they want. Stories only come to an end when characters either get or don’t get what they want.

The two primary outcomes are:

  • Success: They get what they want (but this doesn’t stop them from wanting: “Behind mountains are more mountains.” Or Macbeth.)
  • Fail: They exhaust all options or reach the limits of their abilities and resources. This leads to failure or the character giving up. They can also fail to overcome/understand free will and choice or reason out a solution.

But there could also be:

  • Succeed/Fail: The character gets one thing, but not another.
  • They change their want (growth and change).

Final Thoughts

  • We all want something. Your characters will begin their stories already wanting something.
  • No obstacle means no conflict, which means no story.
  • Want must be equally matched with an obstacle in every way.
  • Either want or obstacle begins your story.
  • The story is complete when the characters either get what they want or don't, or somewhere in between.

Assignment

Write a 2-3 page script of any type that contains two characters whose wants counter each other.

Choose who your protagonist is and focus on writing your script around their side of the story. They will be the one that drives the action. The antagonist is the obstacle in the way.

Ask yourself

  • How is your antagonist’s want working against your protagonist’s want?
  • Are they equally matched? Are they both willing to take this to the very end?
  • What is the outcome? Do you know why it is this way?

Marking Criteria

  • Proper screenplay format (including descriptions, slug lines, parenthesis, and ALL CAPS on the introduction of characters).
  • Written in the active, present tense.
  • Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • The proper page count of the assignment, plus a title page that uses the proper format
  • Only 5 mistakes are allowed per script.

This assignment is due on Sunday, Sept. 24 at midnight. (Saskatchewan time).