Plot complications

September 10th, 2008 by

One of the ironies of screenwriting is that we work so hard to nail down a plot, therefore, a large part of our energy is focused on simply getting the story from FADE IN to FADE OUT. However, we also know that great stories feature plot complications — roadblocks and reversals that get in the way of the Protagonist achieving their goal.

Why are plot complications important? A number of reasons. First, they make a story more interesting. Second, they’re a great way to surprise the reader. But probably the most important reason intrinsic to the story world itself — complications force characters, and most especially the Protagonist, to overcome ever greater odds, to use the wisdom they’ve gained and the inner strength they’ve tapped into as a result of their journey to be better than the forces working in opposition to them. As a result, by the story’s end, the reader is likely to feel more satisfied with the Protagonist reaching their goal, knowing the writer really pushed that character to their limit.

So while we struggle to figure out the plot, every beat along the way, we also have to be willing to ‘muck it up,’ cause some mayhem, throw in reversals, slam their forward progress to a stop with a big fat roadblock. Like I said, ironic.

That’s one of the reasons I love Pixar movies. Beyond the fact that they clearly love great stories and the process of crafting a story, they totally embrace the idea of plot complications. In fact, their animated shorts wallow in plot twists and turns. You can almost feel the energy of the writers and the creative team on screen, where they tried to top each other with another twist, then another, and another, and on and on.

Here’s a great example, the short that played in front of Wall*E, a wonderful little story called “Presto.” In a way, it’s an homage to plot complications. Enjoy!


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