Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Problem Is . . .

I've been revising my manuscript, getting it ready to fulfill a request from an agent. In going through this, I've changed a lot. I've upped the conflict, ratcheted motivations, and made it a stronger story overall.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent the first three chapters to a trusted friend and author. She liked this and that, then, on page ten, she stopped and asked, "What's the story problem?" The story problem? Hmph. I knew what it was. And she was right, it wasn't there. At least not in a way that would spell things out for the reader.

Often times new writers struggle with where to start their stories. Many have a big fish head (useless three chapters of mostly back story that doesn't need to be there) that needs to be chopped off. But early on in the story, as soon as possible in the first chapter, you need to lay out the story problem. That issue/problem that's going to drive the entire story.

As I pondered the books on the shelf behind my desk, I asked myself what was their story problem. I could tell you exactly what it was in each of them. And in nearly every one, the problem was established on page one. Lucky for me, I there were no major changes to make. I simply needed to change some things around. Whew! Next time that author read it, she loved it!

Now all of this may seem like a "duh" thing--"Duh, Mindy. I knew that"--but it was eye-opening for me. When it doubt, lay your problem out :-)

So what's your problem?


  1. My problem is I never have enough conflict. Or it's not strong enough. Or it's solvable too quickly, or......
    Yeah, big problem. I'm glad you were able to find your story problem. Now, where's my conflict, girl???!!!

  2. I'm still learning the same lesson, too! I've just written a new opening and had Lindi read it last night. We discussed it today and it still need a little more work. But it's getting there!

    Mindy, congrats on getting yours all ready to go!!


  3. I'm about to finish my seventh book, and I've had a different problem with each one. My problem is I'm not consistent with my problems.

    The first one was bad writing--period. The second sagged in the middle and I lost focus. The third had too many coincidential issues and lacked reality. The fourth didn't have a strong enough heroine. The fifth needed more cultural flavor and may still find a home once I lengthen it. The sixth had some backstory issues in the first 30 pages. My current WIP started out with some scene and sequence issues in the first two chapters and I realized I started the first scene in the wrong person's POV. The good news is I've fixed most of the problems. If you know the problem, you can at least fix it.