On character obstacles

In fiction, it’s common for characters to face obstacles, which they often overcome with great difficulty.

One of the problems that I often run into when I’m writing fiction is coming up with obstacles that are both (a) difficult to overcome, and (b) not impossible to overcome.

So I’m wondering if any of y’all have any thoughts on ways to come up with such obstacles, and ways to come up with their resolutions.

I know that it’s also common in fiction for characters to try to overcome obstacles but fail; but it’s not hard for me to come up with obstacles that the characters can’t overcome. So I’m not asking about general approaches to character obstacles in fiction; I’m specifically looking for discussion about ways to create overcomeable-but-only-with-difficulty obstacles.

I know some answers to that. For example, even if the solution isn’t hard to come up with, the process of carrying it out may be part of the point of the story. (One can write interestingly about the process of traveling across a glacier, for example, and the changes that journey brings to the characters, without needing to convince the reader that the characters really might die.) And success might require sacrifice: a character might get injured, a character might have to give up a physical item of importance, or give up a memory, or the obstacle might increase the time pressure that the characters are under, or one character might have to die so that others can live. And success can be partial, or temporary.

And I suppose the try/fail cycle can involve building up skills and strengths and resources so that an obstacle that’s initially insurmountable becomes more tractable over time.

But even so, I feel like my most common approaches to coming up with character obstacles are (a) to come up with things that in the end turn out not to have been obstacles after all (which can be a legitimate approach, but often leaves readers feeling cheated), or (b) to come up with things that feel to me like filler, like wasting the reader’s time with plot coupons until it’s time for the resolution.

So, any thoughts on ways to do it better?

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