Every story needs a problem. Well, preferably more than one, but we're here to talk about the two main problems your story needs before you start writing it.
This is the first post in a series of 5 of the The Bones of Your Story Series (and right in time for NaNoWriMo!) We're going to talk about Problems, Wants & Needs, Conflict, Motivations, and Resolutions.
Whether you're a planner, pantser, or somewhere in between, these are the core elements you need to be successful in writing a novel in 30 days.
In fact, it's good to have this information handy whenever you're starting a new project. So, let's get started!
The problems of your story are, arguably, the most important elements. They will the foundation for everything that happens. The plot, your main character's story arc, the motivation for y
our MC's decisions, etc. So you need to make sure their solid and sound.
Two Types of Problems
Your story will have two problems (not counting subplots or problems dealing with your side characters):
Your story problem a.k.a. your plot (the issue that will be solved by the time your book is over)
Your MC's internal struggle that they will overcome (this is your character's arc of change)
Your story problem will likely be the easier one to pinpoint. Will the princess get out of the tower? Will the treasure hunter find the gold first? Can the super hero save the city? It's the question that grabs the attention of the reader when they read the summary of your book. It's what your main plot points will help push along.
Your MC's struggle is a little more complex and subtle. This is the character flaw or trauma, etc. that will be addressed through the story problem your MC will be solving. This is the problem that connects your reader to your character; makes them feel more relatable. It's the emotional side of reading for your reader. They may have came for the story problem, but they're staying because you're making the internal struggle engaging. This problem can also be a bit more challenging to nail down. Can they learn to trust again? Discovering or accepting who they truly are. You get the idea. It's more of an abstract concept rather than the concrete problem above.
Having well-defined problems will help you line out your story. It will guide you in what the goals should be and how to get there. It will show you your character's motivations and potential conflicts. Everything will come back to your two problems. So make sure you vet them. Make sure they stand up to everything you throw at them. These will be your foundation.
You may find, that in the beginning, your story problem and character problem are not related, and that's okay. By the end of your book, though, they should dovetail together, either because your character learns a lesson from the story problem that lets them navigate their internal struggle, or the two actually end up connected. Either option is fine, but make sure they are cohesive together.