Storytelling techniques – Create Complications
One of the things that keep readers turning the page is the amount of tension, drama and conflict we create within a story. Every story relies on a certain amount of conflict, but part of creating all that drama is how we create complications for our characters.
We don’t want our characters to have an easy time. In fact, we want the opposite. We want them to go through hell, we want them to suffer, we want to push them all the time, corner them and make their lives difficult. If they had it all their own way, there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell.
That’s why we create complications for our characters to deal with. Because their story is not meant to be an easy ride.
When we talk about complication – and creating them – we are referring to the escalating series of problems that take place in the story; the kind of things that make life difficult (but not impossible) for our characters. Lots of complications usually facilitate conflict.
Don’t confuse complications with obstacles. They’re similar but have different functions. Obstacles are the major, ‘almost impossible’ barriers we throw in the way of the protagonist achieving his or her goal. Complications, however, are those annoying little things that pop up to make life difficult. For example, the hero must race his car across town to save it from a bomb about to go off, but the car won’t start. So he has to get his hands on another one. But there’s no key. So he has to break in, hot wire it and he only has minutes left...
That’s what complication is. It’s about making life complicated for your main characters. The character needs to do something, but you as the writer need to find a way to prevent him doing it.
Often complications arise naturally as you’re writing and expanding the story. The progression of the story sometimes needs added complications, and you may see an opportunity to create one or two. Many authors create them at plotting stage, to make sure the characters don’t get an easy time, while others add them during the editing stage. It doesn’t matter how you approach it or how you do it, as long as you make the these things interesting enough to provide that extra bit of tension and drama, and of course, added conflict.
How do you know if you have enough complications for your characters?
When you read through your story, do your characters sail through it without too many problems? Is everything too easy for them? Do they face any of those niggly little problems that threaten to thwart them as they move close to the climax of the story? If so, add a complication or two.
Adding complications is a great way to generate tension, atmosphere, drama and acts as a catalyst for conflict. But don’t overuse them. Too many will make the story messy. Like major obstacles, complications work when the story demands it, i.e. when a character needs to do something important, but is set back by a complication. It won’t stop him doing what he has to do. It will just make his life difficult.
And that’s what creating complications is all about.
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