What is an “Obstacle”?
(By Tonya Tannenbaum)
In acting, an obstacle is a person or object that stands in the way of the character achieving his or her objective. Obstacles can also be internal or psychological.
Obstacles are at the heart of dramatic tension. A character has an objective that he or she would like to achieve. If the character’s need or desire to reach their objective is strong enough, they will take action to achieve this objective.
Standing in the way of the character achieving their objective is the obstacle. The obstacle is often a person, or persons. For example, in Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, having fallen in love, had an objective. They wanted to be together as husband and wife. But the two “star-cross’d lovers” had one big obstacle that stood in the way: a long-standing blood feud between their families. The Montagues and the Capulets were sworn enemies. The hatred between the two families ran so deep that even the servants of the families were at odds.
Romeo and Juliet’s objective repeatedly crashing into their obstacle is what makes the Shakespearean play so great. The lovers go to great lengths to overcome their obstacle, including the drugging of Juliet so she can appear dead for a time, only to reawaken in her Romeo’s arms. At least, that was the plan.
While obstacles are often people, they are not limited to people. Obstacles can, in fact, be anything that prevents the character from achieving their objectives. Obstacles can be inanimate objects. They can even be internal or psychological conflicts within the character themselves.
When obstacles come into direct opposition with the character’s objectives, conflict is created. This resulting conflict is what makes every story interesting. The audience is first drawn in by character’s need to fulfill an objective. Then an obstacle is presented. The audience then follows along with the character as they wrestle with, and ultimately overcome (or fail to overcome) their obstacle.