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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Story Problem

Picture Credit: http://darrellcreswell.wordpress.com/
In writing, one of the key elements to evaluate is the story problem.

The story problem is the key issue that drives the characters and plot. It should be a big-enough problem that it takes a book (or movie) to solve. If a short conversation between a couple characters would clear everything up, then the story problem lacks the intensity it needs in order to drive the story.

There are 3 major types of story problems:

  1. Danger or threat
    • This can be a threat dealing with loss of life, safety, or happiness
    • There does not have to be a gun involved for a character to be threatened
  2. Hardship or lack of opportunity
    • The character begins the story in an undesirable situation and works to get out
  3. Mystery
    • Anything that generates curiosity
    • The character (and reader) could be trying to figure out an odd event, a secret, or gaining understanding
Once you identify the story problem (or problems), consider the types of obstacles the characters will have to confront. Also consider the types of things the characters you pick will need to try before they can overcome the obstacles.

Next, look at some of the troubles the characters will run into while trying to solve the story problem. If the character is invincible in every way and brushes past all problems the story will quickly become boring. Even super heroes have some weakness they are fighting against. Some types of troubles are:

  • Disadvantages- reasons they are the underdog more than someone else would be in their position
  • Uncertainty- misdirection in what they are trying to do versus what they should be doing if they understood the situation better
  • Conflict
    • The "good guy" versus the "bad guy"
    • The "good guy" versus other "good guys" due to differences in opinion, personality, or motivations
    • The "good guy" versus the setting
    • The "good guy" versus himself or herself
  • Increasing troubles- if a trouble is constant for an extended period of time, it loses its urgency
    • Raise the stakes
    • Intensify
    • Setback

The problem, the obstacles, and the characters' attempted solutions, and the characters' troubles will generate the plot.

  1. An incident is needed to introduce the story problem
  2. The character faces the problem
  3. The character reacts to the problem
  4. The result from the character's action is seen
    • This can be a positive or negative result, as long as there is something to tell
  5. The character faces the result of his or her actions
The story will run through these steps until it resolves itself in a natural way. Surprise endings are great, so long as they feel natural and unavoidable based on the characters and the world the characters live in.

Hope you find this look at the story problem helpful! Happy writing.

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