As the weather has been getting warmer in Denver, I decided to buy a bike so I could check out the local trails and get some exercise that wouldn't aggravate my foot. Simple enough, right?

You'd think. But that's not how it happened. 

Here's a roughly chronological list of the complications that ensued over the next few weeks:

  • Dick's Sporting Goods, my preferred bike retailer, closed down temporarily thanks to COVID-19.

  • A stay-at-home-except-for-essentials order was issued for all of Denver. 

  • During one of my Walmart grocery runs, I picked out a bike and all the other equipment I thought I'd need. Trying to push a cart and a bike at the same time = not one of my brighter ideas

  • I spent half an hour or so trying to put my new bike rack together and get it onto my car. Part of the problem was the directions kept blowing away!

  • The bike proved ridiculously difficult to get on and off the rack. I almost broke the rack trying.

  • I went on my first ride in over a year, only to realize that I'd forgotten the seat cushion. For a ride on an unpaved trail. Ouch.

  • When I went to put the cushion on before my next ride, I discovered that I'd gotten the wrong size. The cushion was almost twice as wide as the seat and wouldn't do me any good.

  • I got stuck in line for about twenty minutes trying to return the cushion.

  • Walmart didn't have any other cushions that would fit my seat, so I had to buy a new seat altogether.

  • When I pulled out my toolbox to remove the old seat and install the new one, I found about nine different options for my sprocket-wrench head . . . and none of them were the size I needed.

  • I thought I had an adjustable wrench that I could use instead, but now I can't find it!

My siblings would say, "Only you, Candice!" They'd probably be right.

I've mentioned before that every scene and every story boils down to three questions:

  1. What does my character want?

  2. Why do they want it?

  3. How can I keep them from getting it?

The trick is that sometimes we make the answer to #3 too easy. That's my beef with Disney's Brother Bear, for exampleit's too easy for Kenai to get to the mountain. If the character doesn't have to struggle to get what they want, the story is unsatisfying.

On the other hand, sometimes we go overboard and make the answer to #3 too hard. If my escapades with the bike were a story, I'd probably tell the author that they were making things overly complicated. Readers get frustrated and bored if it takes too long for characters to accomplish their goals. Also, if obstacles keep compounding on top of each other, it stretches the suspension of disbelief too far. Readers start to say, "Seriously? Give this character a break!" 

How do we find the balance? One way might be to add another question to the list:

  1. What does my character want?

  2. Why do they want it?

  3. How can I keep them from getting it?

  4. What does each character get at the end of this scene? of the story?

I learned this trick from a few sources. One is Rebels Recon, the behind-the-scenes companion show to Star Wars Rebels. <spoilers> In seasons 3 and 4 of both shows, the Ghost crew's chief antagonist is the brilliant tactician Grand Admiral Thrawn. According to the filmmakers, part of what makes Thrawn such a dangerous opponent is that his idea of victory is different from those of the Ghost crew's previous enemies. Those enemies consider it a loss if the Rebels escape. However, Thrawn sees victory in simply learning something new about his enemy. And the more knowledge he has to work with, the more of a threat he becomes. Thus, even as the Rebels keep eluding him (what they get at the end of each episode), Thrawn keeps adding pieces to his plan to destroy them (what he gets at the end of each episode). </spoilers>

One of my other sources for question #4 is an independent film festival I went to years ago. One of the presenters mentioned that a story needs to have ups and downs in the buildup to the climax. Characters need not just setbacks but also small victories along the way. Otherwise, the audience loses interest. Think about it: would you rather ride a roller coaster that has a single hill and a single drop, or would you rather ride a roller coaster that has several progressively taller hills and drops and then the biggest one of all at the end?

Just as every roller coaster needs a design team to create the best experience for users, every roller coaster of a story needs a design team. I'd love to be a part of yours. Click "Services Offered" at the top of this page to explore the roles I can play.

Write on,


(Thanks to Alistair MacRobert for sharing their work on Unsplash.)