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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Story-Worthy Problem

For those of you who follow my personal blog--sorry that I'm double posting the same thing today. Please forgive me, but my brain is slow on ideas this week, and this was a good one. ;)

I've been reading this book...
Find on Goodreads
I highly recommend it. One of the things that really hit me this first read through is the story worthy problem. In the past I thought about conflict, tension, the problems that come up, etc, but I never thought about the one deep seeded problem that drives the whole story. It's there in Sendek, but I never named it. And never naming it explains why I still feel like something is missing or not quite working. Let's take a closer look. Story-worthy problem vs surface problems.
A story-worthy problem always relates more to the inner psychology of the protagonist and has to be big enough, dramatic enough, to change the protagonist's world and force him on a journey of change. Surface problems, on the other hand, are more like bad situations that reflect the actual story-worthy problem, but that aren't sufficient on their own to sustain and entire story. ~Les Edgerton, Chapter 3.
In another spot in the book it mentions how the protagonists thinks they know what the main problem is, but they are almost always wrong--just missing the real thing. Their journey leads them and the reader to the story-worthy problem. Using those two things, let me give you an example from Sendek. Talia thinks her problem is that she's going to die a horrible death at the hands of the Draguman if she can't convince someone they exist, are coming, and the people of Sendek need to prepare to fight. That is a great bit of conflict. It builds tension throughout the story, but in the end it isn't the story-worthy problem. The deeper psychological issue is that when Talia's family died, she stopped living. Her real problem is learning to live again by letting others into her life. Being willing to hurt again in order to feel love.
But she doesn't recognize that until the very end. In the meantime there are lots of surface problems that move her closer to realizing that story-worthy problem. Her reaction to each surface problem has an effect on whether she is a success or a failure at the story-worthy problem.
Every problem--story-worthy and surface--has its own corresponding resolution or goal, so the resolution of a surface problem shouldn't also be the resolution to the story-worthy problem. Instead, the resolution of the surface problem should contribute to the resolution of the story-worthy problem. ~Les Edgerton, Chapter 3.
Maybe this is all old news to you guys, but this is going to make my current and future WIPs 100 times better. In knowing the difference between the problems I can plan/plot/outline better and keep the end goal straight in my head. Each surface problem can be crafted to better define and guide my character to reaching the ultimate goal. Finally, Edgerton talks about digging deep to find this story-worthy goal. Deep into our own selves. Let loose your own personal demons and you will find the stuff of greatness. If you are emotional about the problem, it will come through your writing.
That means you have to let yourself out of the box.


Cortney Pearson said...

I have that book, but haven't read it yet! He states that really well too, having a main goal/problem for the protag and then all the other conflicts coincide with that. Me likey. :)

Unknown said...

I usually characterize (ha!) that question as: What does the character most want? Sometimes the character doesn't know what they want until it bites them on the nose; other times they want the wrong thing, or at least wrong for them.

And these aren't superficial wants like wanting the latest pair of shoes, but rather, emotional wants. Such as a character who wants to be loved, or wants to become stronger to protect others.

Then there's the emotional obstacles of self-doubt, fear of being rejected, and so on, that the character has to get over. Resolving surface-level obstacles usually helps to overcome their emotional deficiencies. They become a little braver, they come to trust their own abilities, etc.

...Well, that turned out a wee bit longer than anticipated.

Jade Hart said...

Hello Huntress.
Just wanted to say HI *Waves hand* and say I've seen you around Blogosphere and wanted to join in all the fun :) Look forward to your posts :)

Carol Riggs said...

I think I have this book on my hubby's Kindle--I'd forgotten it was there! Silly me. I definitely have to read it. :) Sounds like I need to run my novels through this sieve and see if I have all the necessary ingredients!

mshatch said...

I've heard a lot of good things about this book. Wish I had it! Adding to long list...

dolorah said...

I've read that book - long long ago. I need to go pull it out again for my women's fiction MC.


Jazzbumpa said...

This is a great post.

I'll tell you right up front, I've pretty much given up on fiction writing. I just don't have room in my life for both that and music, so I've gone with my first love. I scratch my writing itch by blogging. Even a long post with lots of graphs and deep thinking on a subject I not familiar with is a sprint compared to a short story of comparable length.

I'll recommend another book, it you can find it: The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner. I found it on the reminders shelf years ago, and I used to reread it every Spring. I think it's influence all of my writing.

Now you have me wondering - what is the story-worthy problem for each of the main characters in A Song of Ice and Fire? Hmmmmm . . .


David P. King said...

Great post. I also think Hooked is a great read. :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

I love how the inner (my words) and outer conflict weave through each other and work on each other in this definition of a story worthy problem. Great post! I'm going to have to get that book.

Jim said...

I have read the book and found it helpful, but it seems that the story-worthy problem is also an abstract concept, like a theme. Would anyone agree with that. As you can tell, I haven't grasped it yet.


Charity Bradford said...

It might feel abstract because it's so hard to figure out, but I think you can find it with some deep thought. Just remember it has to do with the mental/emotional issue not the physical action.

Good luck finding your story worthy problem!