How to Use Goals & Obstacles to Fascinate Your Readers

Whether you write by the seat of your pants (a pantser) or you have a detailed outline (a plotter), or anywhere anywhere on the line in between, you’ve likely gotten stuck in your story. That’s disconcerting at the best and devastating at the worst. The story comes to a screeching halt and you beat yourself up. Yes, this happens to plotters sometimes. Unfortunately, it happens to pantsers more often than not. But don’t worry. There’s a way to solve or prevent most stuck-in-the-middle events. Use goals & obstacles to fascinate your readers.

Cartoon of long-haired character with hands folded and anxiously facing a laptop with coffee and papers. Stuck in the middle of your story? Use Goals & Obstacles to Fascinate Your Readers


In story writing, a goal is what your main character wants. It might be the blue ribbon in the county fair or to save the world from a weapon of mass destruction. But you knew that, didn’t you? So why am I harping on it?

And it isn’t just a want. It’s a need. To fascinate your reader, the main character’s want must mean something. It doesn’t have to be a theme-heavy, my-soul-will-be-destroyed type of meaning. But if your character does not achieve their goal, they lose something valuable. This irrevocable loss changes the principal character’s life for the worse (at least in the character’s estimation). A high schooler believes with his whole being that if he doesn’t win the football game and impress the recruiting agent, his life is ruined forever. That can make for a page-turning story.

More About Goals

The more concrete you can make the goal, the clearer it will be for the reader. How do you know your goal is concrete? By asking yourself, can the character take a picture of it? 

You can add a layer to goals and make the story deeper, more complex.

Add a Layer

To deepen the story, you can add a layer to the character’s goal by making it misunderstood. What the character THINKS she wants and what she NEEDS to avoid that sense of loss are two different things. In the high school football player above, what if he’s suffering from a chronic illness that will eventually destroy his ability to walk? He may think he wants the memory of the football victory to sustain him, but what he needs is to learn to cope with his illness. And when he loses the football game but gains a new understanding of how he can live and be happy, it will be a satisfactory ending.

But even if the path to a goal isn’t straight, it isn’t interesting, Use goals & obstacles to fascinate your reader.


Most how-to write instruct you to have lots of conflict in your story. But that word has connotations and meanings that confuse many of us. What it really means for a story is to prevent your character from achieving their goal. Set obstacles in their path. Obstacles can be a person (or persons), a place or environment (nature), or the character herself.

In a successful story, there is usually a single major obstacle, often a person we like to call the bad guy or the antagonist. Initially, the bad guy has all the control. It’s the bad guy’s moves that cause the protagonist to react, to choose an alternative path. And the bad guy hones in on the main character’s flaws with every obstacle he throws in the path to success.

More About Obstacles

A motorcyclist has stopped his cycle in the middle of a shallow creek but appears to find the creek and obstacle to his goal--Use Goals & Obstacles to Fascinate Your Readers

Vary the obstacles your character must overcome. How do you do that? With subplots. One subplot could be the foul weather on the last day of practice that causes a temporary injury or maybe the opposing team kidnaps the main character and dumps him in a location so he can’t possibly get to the game on time. Almost any subplot will work. Though it will have more impact if it’s at least tangentially related to the want and need.

If the character does not overcome many obstacles, the story isn’t satisfying. And if the obstacles are all the same, the story isn’t satisfying. If at least one obstacle doesn’t make the character back up and try again, the story isn’t satisfying.

A successful, satisfying story is one that keeps throwing obstacles in the character’s attempts to get what they want. The obstacles make the character work to achieve their goal. The harder the character works at achieving his goal, the more satisfying the story ending.

More Than One Path

Still in the dark about goals & obstacles? Read Conflict: Twist the Knife Slowly. Or search KM Weiland’s website You might want to start with The #1 Way to Write Intense Story Conflict.

Fascinate Your Readers

The most successful stories all use goals & obstacles to fascinate the reader. Don’t believe me? Take your favorite stories and analyze them. 

You and your imagination are the magic idea generator. But your magic story engine is the push—pull, the try-fail, the never-quite-successful moves toward an important goal. First drafts are supposed to be messy. That’s okay. Fine-tuning is for the rewrite process. For this first draft, use goals & obstacles and you’re well on the way to fascinating your reader.

Opportunities for the New Quarter

It’s the beginning of the final quarter of 2019. There are opportunities to make the most of the new quarter. I want to do exactly that. Don’t you? It’s time to take stock of what we’ve achieved this year and what we have yet to achieve. Here are some of my met and unmet goals so far this year.

What Have I Done?

Image of a dart stuck in the red bullseye of a target is a symbol of the goals I hit and the opportunities for the new quarter.

In March, I promoted My Soul to Keep in the Robin Reads newsletter. The number of sales I made wasn’t huge, but it made me happy. As did the release of the hardcover edition of My Soul to Keep. In May, I co-hosted an author salon/book party at the local science fiction convention. It was a hit for fun and book sales! And in June, a small book club picked My Soul to Keep as its book. I got some nice sales and two lovely reviews. 

I wrote more words in the first nine months of 2019 than I wrote all of last year. More than half those words went toward creating a new book. Fellowship went live on July 8th. July 14th I held my first online launch party hosted by the amazing, Cheer Stephenson-Papworth on The Band of Dystopian Authors and Fans Facebook page. It was a blast. Mini survival kits were one prize. Fellowship’s appearance in the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) New Releases bulletin was a nice bonus. 

One of the new things I tried was my first online contest. My results were small but fun. 

I finished the outline for the prequel to My Soul to Keep. The first draft is in progress.  

I made several tweaks to my website and wrote a lot of posts. More people signed up for my occasional newsletter.  I’ve blogged as regularly as I could. 

Through online classes with Bryan Cohen, I learned a strategy for marketing my books on Amazon. Based on the short course, I would strongly recommend is Amazon Ads course.

Finally, I’ve read more fiction books than I have in quite a while. That’s not saying much, but it’s progress!

Goals I Did Not Meet

The sequel to My Soul to Keep is the big black cloud of not done. Tentatively titled, If I Should Die, the first draft isn’t as far along as I had intended.

I’d intended to have some fun book-related merchandise to offer for sale. I drafted several quotes for t-shirts and other fun merchandise. Only one quote is in the final design stages. I’d intended to be further along at this point.

Regular blog posts three days a week. Since I’ve not found a system to plan and create blog posts in advance, I fell down in this area. Last-minute blog posts don’t happen when life obstacles pop up unexpectedly.

Regular newsletter production. Sorry. Life events have overwhelmed me many times this year. When those things hit, I focus on getting what fiction writing done that I can. Everything else waits until I can get to it. Sadly, I did not get regular newsletters out.

A regular appearance on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest also suffered from obstacles. I love interacting with you on all three platforms and was not happy to have to step away from social media. But, knowing my primary goal kept me focused on producing them when time and energy were taken to deal with life.

I haven’t read as many books as I had intended to read. Life events have been many in the Burrows’ household. As time goes on, I am becoming more and more of a full-time caregiver. After caregiving comes writing new fiction and everything else. 

What I Didn’t Start

Incomplete designs means no merchandise could be sold.

My intention was to create videos and podcasts to share on social media. I’m uncertain I’ll get to that this year.

Audio books. I had intended to perform my own books. But the time to produce audio books is sadly not available this year. 

Obstacles in the First 9 Months

Unfortunately, there were many personal and family obstacles this year. Without my tracking sheet, I would have said this was my worst year ever. Instead, it’s been more productive than I’d been during any year I’ve kept records! 

Why didn’t my obstacles slow me down? Well, they did. But I had a plan, and I kept adjusting my goals. This is why I’m a huge proponent of tracking your time and your goals.

Opportunities for the New Quarter

drawing of a rainbow ending in a pot of gold representing our opportunities for the New Quarter.

My opportunities to make the most of the new quarter are endless. My intentions list is almost endless. A few of the large rock items on my list are: I will appear at a local library for a showcase of local authors event in November. I intend to be half-way through the first draft of If I Should Die by the end of the year, and there will be at least on t-shirt available for sale before Christmas. 

What are your opportunities to make the most of the new quarter? Do you track your progress and review your goals and outcomes at the end of each quarter? What is one of your big rock items for the last quarter of 2019? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.