Friday, October 21, 2016

No Problem, No Story

When you're writing fiction, your protagonist has to have a problem of some sort that must be solved by the end of your story. If there is no problem, there is no story. It's just a lot of la-de-da sentences strung together and it will not keep a reader interested enough to keep reading.

When we start reading a short story or a novel, we are soon introduced to the problem. We turn the pages to see how the hero or heroine tackles the problem and triumphs. At least, we hope he/she triumphs. We want to cheer him/her on. We want to experience the fear or anger or joy right along with the character.

The bad decisions mentioned can create the problem and also help to keep it alive. Your character can make a lot of bad decisions which will make his/her life almost unbearable. If Goldilocks had not decided to go into the woods, she'd have never stopped at the home of the three bears. Hansel and Gretel shouldn't have gone into the dark forest looking for their father. If they'd stayed home, there would have been no meeting with the wicked witch. And how about Sleeping Beauty? She never should have taken a bite of the poison apple, but she did. Look what happened to her? These old fairy tales all ended well but the characters all made a bad decision which got them into trouble. And it created a good story for readers.

If you're writing a novel, your character is probably going to need to make several bad decisions and then work like crazy to get out of trouble. You, the writer, has to make those bad decisions believable and, at times, that can be a difficult task. You'll need to play the what if....? game with every situation to figure out if the bad decision and the solution are realistic enough for your readers to accept. 

If you're writing memoir, some of your own bad decisions and how you worked your way out of it will appeal to readers. 

Make a list of the bad decisions you've made in your life. I've made plenty of them and I'm sure most of you have, too. Then, make another column in your list and add a way to make that bad decision be a problem that is solved in some way. What you end up with is the bones of a story to write as fiction or to be included in your memoir.

Other peoples' bad decisions end up being good for writers!

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