This is the last Element in the How category, and while I hadn't planned it this way, it turns out this Element can be interpreted two very different ways.

The first way is as "obstacles," which is very similar to Tension, which we covered WAY back in the How category. I'm not going to go into this now, since it's one of those things I'm not sure really needs a definition, but to cover our bases, let's say that Obstacles are simply those situations, characters, and tasks that stand between your main character and their desires.

The second interpretation of Boundaries and the one we're going to be focusing on today is more literal; that is, we're talking about the physical, mental, or temporal limitations that prevent your character from passing a specific point.

 

Last week we talked about the Countdown, the elements of a story that limit the amount of time a character can spend on a specific task or journey to enhance tension and highlight excitement. In this sense, the Countdown is actually a subsection, because it's also a Boundary.

A Boundary might also be:

the borders of a town

an impassible mountain range

childhood trauma

or a lack of sufficient information.

And in a way, any one of these might be considered an Obstacle, but what differentiates them is whether or not the main character sees the Boundary as something that needs to be overcome. For example, in the first book of the Mortal Engines series, the main character (Tom) imagines that the world outside London is a horrid place and wants nothing to do with it - he just wants to get back home. He doesn't see this fear of everything outside the borders of his hometown as something to be overcome and in fact he clings to it up until the last handful of chapters. It was therefore a Boundary, but not necessarily an Obstacle. (Rectangles and squares, my friends.)

Another example of a Boundary might be a lack of training.

This is an interesting Element to play around with, because it limits your main character's forward motion or even redirects their attention, which can take your story in interesting directions. If you find that the Boundaries of your story are too big (distract from the plot) or too small (don't affect the main character or their interactions with the world) then you may need to take some time to figure out why that is, and whether is your Boundaries that need to change, or the plot. I sometimes find that the reason I'm hitting a roadblock with my story is because the goal or the boundaries were wrong for the tale I was trying to tell. Sometimes, I even have the wrong characters. Luckily for me, nothing is set in stone until the book is published, and that hasn't happened yet.

To the previous Element

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Element - Countdown 24.png
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