on writing

Story 101, Ep. II: Problems and More Problems

Don’t give it to ’em easy.

I’ve come to think of problem-invention as a parallel to my experience befriending people in Southeast Asia. American culture affords the sort of fast best-friendship that springs from extroverted social norms and bonding over sports teams or favorite authors, which immediate heart-to-hearts follow. This is not the case, though, for “cold cultures” — like introverted quiet sister Thailand. Culturally reserved but friendly, Thais accidentally feed the lie that you are not only friends but good ones. In a little bit, with some effort and time, you will be invited for dinner. You’ll think: “We’re totally friends!” But you’re not. When a wall comes flying up from a trapdoor in the ground, it’ll nearly clip you, and you may feel angry. Around the third or fourth time this happens, you’ll get discouraged at the thought of ever becoming as good of friends as you think you are. But still, you plow onward, and then another wall nearly takes off your nose. You may be in the jungles for a good few years before one day your Thai “acquaintance” will look at you and think and look at you and think and finally ask you what your favorite color is.

As soon as the main problem dies, your story is over.

The temptation as a creator is to invent the world you wish you had and make your characters flourish in it. But this is where we may mirror Real Life, which may not make a living off it but does enjoy a good dabble of thwarting. We learn through struggle, so let your characters struggle. Give them a problem relevant to their goal and let them want it so bad, their wanting bleeds through the pages and makes us match our breathing to theirs. Then thwart them.

On your character’s road to actualizing his or her goal, there are spring-loaded doors in the ground. But the more walls, the bigger the pay-off. I’ll never forget how happy I was to answer: “It’s green! Green green green!”

Keep an eye out for Episode III (concerning bullet 4.)!

❤ , dori.png

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