What Is an Obstacle Character?

The Obstacle Character is the point-of-view that blocks the Main Character from just sweeping their personal problems under the carpet.

Subtxt reverts to the original core understanding and foundation of Dramatica theory, way back when first released in the early to mid-nineties. At that time, when the theory first introduced the point of view to challenge the Main Character and fuel their personal growth, it was known as the Obstacle Character.

And the reason for that is that the Obstacle Character's function is to block the Main Character from just sweeping their personal problems under the carpet, forcing them to deal with their justifications directly. Their very presence, whether or not it was direct or indirect, was an obstacle or an impediment to the Main Character just continuing to do things the way that they've always done.

That removal fuels the growth of the Main Character's perspective in the story, whether or not they grow into their resolve out of it. They may decide, okay, I'm actually on the right path, or they end up growing out of that resolve and abandoning that old way of doing things, which is utterly dependent on the story's dynamics.

That Obstacle Character needs to be in the story to act as an obstacle, so the Main Character has to deal with that point of view. Without them, the Main Character themselves is meaningless.

Why the switch

Along the way, in my years of teaching and helping people develop their stories, it occurred to me that Obstacle Character is very wishy-washy. I could influence you. I couldn't impact you. It's up to you. It's not as strong as an obstacle where it's like, Ugh, I've got to deal with this.

And more and more, as I've been teaching and developing more cohort courses and bringing more and more people into Subtxt, it just seems like now is the right time to go back to the original understanding and solidify it in the minds of storytellers.

So from now on, in Subtxt you'll start to see the Obstacle Character as the person functioning as an obstacle to the Main Character continuing their personal justifications, forcing them to grow and deal with those personal issues.

Obstacle Characters in Subtxt

If you're a subscriber to Subtxt, you can find a list of these Obstacle Characters here in Arguments.

Arguments in Subtxt

You'll see every story's Main Character on the left and their corresponding Obstacle Character on the right.

So, for instance, for Dolores in the first season of Westworld, Bernard acts as her Obstacle Character, and the Riddler in the most recent Batman film (The Batman), he functions as the Obstacle Character to Batman.

Which might lead one to believe, isn't the Obstacle Character a fancy way of just saying Antagonist?

Obstacle Does Not Mean Antagonist

The Obstacle Character is not always the Antagonist. The Antagonist is an Objective story that functions similarly to Protagonist. In the same way,that the Protagonist is not always the Main Character of a story, the Antagonist is not always the Obstacle Character. In most common book movies, it is (e.g., The Dark Knight, The Batman), but that's because those stories usually explore what it means to be a hero or a villain..

There are many different types of Obstacle Characters. For example, Ricky Fitts works as an Obstacle Character for Lester in American Beauty.

And the nice thing about Subtxt is you can see the specific element that carries the obstacle. Whereas Lester deals with the reality of things (Actuality), Ricky comes from a Perception point of view, where he sees beauty in a plastic bag. That point of view is an obstacle that forces Lester to deal with his realities, so he can finally see things for what they are.

The same elements appear at the core of the argument in The Sixth Sense--only the elements switch places between Main and Obstacle Character. In The Sixth Sense, Cole sits on the side of reality (Actuality), whereas Malcolm comes from the standpoint of Perception.

And that's why every story is different.

While the elements underneath might be utterly different regarding what's driving them and what they're dealing with, the relationship between the Main Character and the Obstacle Character is the same. Just because they're there and whether or not they're doing it on purpose directly, or it's more of an indirect effect, that perspective is such that it's enough to force the Main Character to deal with whatever personal issues they've swept under the rug.

Originally published 08-26-2022

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