Reviews & Writing

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Problem

Hey guys,

Here are more tips on writing. These focus on "The Problem."

"The Problem" is the major overarching problem that your characters are trying to solve. Basically, once they have solved this problem, the book is over, or once they have failed at solving it, the book is over. And I mean like they completely failed.

Now, a story should have one of these major problems. As discussed before each plot has its own problem, however you really want to identify what "The Problem" is going to be. Which means what is the one problem that is resolved in the end, and thus feels like the most important problem? Because if this problem is fixed last, this suggests that this is in fact the hardest of the problems. This hardest, resolved last problem is "The Problem."

Finding "The Problem" in your story is important because it allows you to develop this problem more than other ones, and it lets you know which of your problems is really the driving force behind the novel. Here's a hint, "The Problem" is usually shared by all of the protagonists, or at least affects them heavily.

 Now let's look at some examples. Warning: spoilers for Star Wars follow.

Like in A New Hope, "The Problem" is defeating the empire. Because Luke, Leia, and even Han care about solving it. The only one who cares about learning the force is Luke, (and Obi-won but he dies.) This is why the end of the movie focuses on defeating the empire. They have this huge ceremony and everyone gets medals. The learning the force problem is not brought up in the end because it's not "The Problem."

However, when you look at Return of the Jedi defeating the empire is no longer as important. One of the major problems becomes Darth Vader's redemption. I would in fact argue that Darth Vader's redemption is "The Problem" because as we learn early on in the movie, Luke's entire plan is to make Darth Vader good. He sends his friends Han and Leia to try and destroy the Death Star, but he himself focuses on turning Darth Vader back to the light. And if that does not work, then Luke is doomed to fail.

This is "The Problem" because of a few reasons. First it is set up and foreshadowed...technically from The Phantom Menace...but if you were not watching chronologically, then Empire Strikes Back. Also, fixing this problem pretty much fixes defeating the empire. Once Darth Vader is good, he kills the Emperor fairly easily. This means that turning Darth Vader good is the hardest problem or "The Problem." That's also why Darth Vader is seen in person for all three movies while the Emperor only appears in person during episode six. Emperor is not the main problem.

So, since Darth Vader's redemption is "The Problem" the movie concludes brilliantly with its resolution. But first we have the evil empire resolution, and everyone begins to party. Then Luke looks to his side and sees Yoda and Obi-Wan as Force Ghosts. Then he sees Anakin (aka Darth Vader) join them. This ending is brilliant because it truly resolves "The Problem," and resolves it last.

So, once you have identified your main problem, you can know the beginning and end of your novel. Now you need to come up with smaller problems that will lead from this beginning to the end. This is where try and fail cycles come in.

More on them later. For now, try to identify "The Problem" in your own writing and the ways in which it molds your story.

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