Ines Johnson has become a regular on this blog. Whenever she has a new release (and this girl is prolific!) she sends such tantalizing guest posts, I’d make space for them even if my schedule was full–which is not (mental note to blog more 🙂 ).
This time Ines’ guest post is about digging deep into your characters to define their inner needs as opposed to their wants, and how to structure your story based on that. Really worth your time. But before you get there, here are the details on Ines’ latest release The Loyal Steed: A Pleasure Hound, a serialized erotic dystopian story. The first part was released on May 12.
The Loyal Steed: A Pleasure Hound novel
by Ines Johnson
Release date: May 12
Genres: Erotic romance, dystopian
Purchase Link: Part 1 | Part 2 (Pre-order) | Part 3 (Pre-order)
Jaspir has been in love with Lady Merlyn since they were children, but she has always been out of his reach. Trained as a Pleasure Hound and now surviving by selling his body to rich women, his heart has always remained loyal to his true love.
Liam was promised to Merlyn in their youth, but he’s always known that he’s not the man in her heart. With their betrothal approaching, Liam seeks out Jaspir for help. Eager to ensure the happiness of the woman they both love, Jaspir agrees to train Liam in the pleasure arts.
What starts as rivals in an uneasy truce, soon turns carnal when Merlyn learns of their secret lessons. In a society where men are second class citizens, Merlyn is torn between the attentions of two men who would do anything to rule her heart.
THE HOLE CHARACTER
All characters have holes (notice it rhymes with goals). You open the first chapter and find a human being who believes they are lacking something crucial in their lives. Perhaps it’s the dream job, or the right social circle, or their mother’s approval, or maybe it’s love.
Rarely do you enter the world of a character who finds themselves whole. A part is usually missing. For the next tens of thousands of words you will embark upon a journey with that character to fill that void.
Characters fill these holes in one of two ways; with either a want or need.
Remember when you were young and you wanted the fancy pair of jeans? Think Brenda in 90210. Fresh from the Midwest, thrown into the dangerous waters of the Beverly Hills elite, and her working class parents couldn’t afford the patchwork, ripped jeans that cost the same as a car payment. But Brenda wanted those holey jeans so that she could fit in with Kelly and Donna. In Carol’s, her mother’s eyes, there was a need for a new pair of pants for Brenda to wear to school and that’s what Brenda got. Now if we watched that 20-year old episode we know what Brenda did to those new pair of jeans; she made holes in her jeans to fill her social void.
You might want a pair of Louis Vuitton, but in the end you need a pair of functioning heels to go with that cute dress.
A want is a false goal, a red herring that throws both the reader and the character off the true course that will fill the character’s hole. It takes some time and some bumps in the road before the character realizes their want is not likely what they need. The need perfectly fills the void the character has been experiencing.
Take a look at your main character(s). What is it that they need in order to be whole again? Now consider if it would serve your story for your character to have a false goal that keeps them from seeing their true need for a good portion of the story?
THE OBSTACLE COURSE
Before a character can see their need, they have to yearn after a want, which takes them on a bumpy ride to nowhere.
This obstacle course consists of four physical and/or internal complications that force the hero or heroine to make decisions that produce dramatic action.
The four kinds of obstacles are:
The Antagonist (Bad Guy)
A specific antagonist lends clarity and power to the dramatic structure because his primary function is to oppose the protagonist. He doesn’t necessarily have to be evil, but he should personify the protagonist’s obstacles.
Example: Cinderella’s Wicked Step Mother
Physical obstructions are just what they seem –material barriers standing in the way of the protagonist. These can be rivers, deserts, mountains, a dead-end street, or a car causing a crash –anything that presents a substantial obstacle for the protagonist.
Example: Arielle’s fin
Inner obstacles are intellectual, emotional, or psychological problems the protagonist must overcome before being able to achieve his goal. For example, dealing with fear, pride, jealousy, or the need to mature fall into this category.
Example: Fiona’s (from Shrek) appearance
Mystic forces enter most stories as accidents or chance but they can be expressed as moral choices or ethical codes, which present obstacles. They can also be personified as gods or supernatural forces, which the characters have to content with.
Example: Tiana’s (from The Frog Prince) magical transformation into a frog
Which of these obstacles will your character face? Will they face more than one type of obstacle during the course of the story?
You’ve discovered your character’s need, and potentially their want, which is a false goal. You’ve learned about the four types of obstacles that can obstruct your character on the way to achieving their goals and filling their need. Now, to build a heart-pounding story where you send your character through the toughest obstacle course you can imagine, you should map out a blueprint for the course.
Four Elements of a Story
Primary character looking to fill the void in their life.
A false goal that the hero/heroine initially believes is their path to wholeness.
One of the four obstacles opposing the hero/heroine.
The true goal of the hero/heroine which will satisfy their void.
OBSTACLE COURSE CARD
In the Cinderella adaptation Ever After, Danielle (heroine) works tirelessly to gain acceptance (want) from her stepmother (antagonist) until she realizes her family of friends, including the Prince, love her unconditionally (need).
In The Little Mermaid adaptation Splash, yes I went there!, Madison (heroine) leaves the sea to be with Allen (want) but when her legs get wet and her fins come back (obstacle) she’s forced to tell Allen the truth of her existence in the hopes that he’ll come and spend forever with her under the sea (need).
In the unconventional fairy tale Shrek, Princess Fiona (heroine) hopes to be rescued by a knight in shining armor (want) who will break her curse (obstacle) until she realizes that true love is “color” blind (need).
Mystic Forces example
In The Frog Prince, Tiana (heroine) dreams of opening a restaurant (want) but her dream takes a slight detour when she’s turned into a frog (obstacle) along with Prince Naveen and learns to seek and take help from others (need).
Now its your turn. Fill out your own obstacle card for you story. If you want to take it a step farther, fill out a card for each scene!
About the Author
Ines writes books for strong women who suck at love. If you rocked out to the twisted triangle of Jem, Jericha, and Rio as a girl; if you were slayed by vampires with souls alongside Buffy; if you need your scandalous fix from Olivia Pope each week, then you’ll love her books!
Aside from being a writer, professional reader, and teacher, Ines is a very bad Buddhist. She sits in sangha each week, and while others are meditating and getting their zen on, she’s contemplating how to use the teachings to strengthen her plots and character motivations.
Ines lives outside Washington, DC with her two little sidekicks who are growing up way too fast.
Connect with the Author
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Great post, Ines! Thank you so much for sharing, and best of luck with The Loyal Steed!
3 thoughts on “Complication Cards: a must-read guest by Ines Johnson, author of The Loyal Steed”
A terrific guest post. Indeed it’s the wants, the needs and the obstacles that create enough tension among characters to make a story interesting. As always, perfection or having everything you need is boring, just like in the real world. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
Exactly. That’s the recipe to a good story, but striking a balance or finding the right dosage is what makes good writing. Thanks for your comment, Fros!
A terrific post!