Writing Exercise – Why Can’t Your characters have what they want?

Last week, I asked you to write about your characters and what they want.

Now we’re introducing some conflict and setting things up for the real story. It’s time to figure out obstacles that stand in the way of your characters. Problems that they strive to solve, and thus give the reader an interesting story.

One key thing to keep in mind about this problem – it should be bad for your character, but not too bad at first. Later, we are going to make this problem even worse, so the problem should start off as something difficult, but surmountable.

I’ll give you an example. Here’s one of my characters from last week, and three potential problems for him to face:

William Flynn, rookie newscaster

William Flynn is a rookie newscaster who is chosen to report from a colony ship on its way to a new planet.

More than anything, he wants to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Darya Fitzgerald.

As a reporter, he wants to see history in the making and be the first to break the story.

He wants to be adored and respected among the colonists of his ship.

I’ll start with the second problem – he wants to be good at his reporting job. A reporter, however, is supposed to be objective – but when an alien contacts the crew, it is Flynn who can understand and translate. He becomes the story, and can’t just sit on the sidelines anymore!

Let’s simplify this into a character goal and a conflict blocking the character’s progress:

Character Goal: Flynn wants to be a good news reporter.

Conflict: He can’t be a reporter because he is the story now. He has to figure out his new role, and how his skills can help.


If you are writing a short story or flash fiction, you may only have one protagonist and one goal to focus on. You’ll have just one main conflict, which will later get worse.

For longer stories, you’ll have multiple characters, and even have multiple conflicts for each character. Don’t get too carried away, though – you still have to be able to reduce the plot to simple elements for your book jacket, and the best way is to make sure you don’t go in with too many twists planned from the start.

Now it’s your turn. Take one character from one of your stories and describe their goal and a conflict that stands in their way.


Consider buying a copy of Nothing Too Familiar or Convergence to support the author of this site.

Or you can help support this site by leaving a tip. Contributions can be made in any amount starting at $1 US. Thank you for the support!

Leave Tip

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s