A story is about a character dealing with a problem of some kind. But is it just any problem?
What makes the task a character faces interesting to the reader?
Is it the risk involved? The difficulty? Does it vary depending on genre?
If Mary decides to start selling cupcakes, it is certainly no easy task running a business in the current financial climate. But will her journey towards financial success be story worthy?
When it comes to problem difficulty, the objective difficulty is not the issue. Climbing a mountain is a very difficult thing to achieve, but if the person undertaking the climb is trained and experienced, then even though effort is required the story doesn’t seem worth telling.
On the other hand, a character who has no training and no experience who has to climb the mountain presents a much more intriguing prospect.
It isn’t the objective difficulty that counts, it’s the specific difficulty for the character. We can test this by using a reverse example.
If Mike has to make a sandwich, a pretty easy task for most people, but in his case his wife is being held at gunpoint and Mike has to make the gunman his favourite sandwich by guesswork, or the wife dies, then Mike’s unique sandwich-making problem makes the scenario interesting where under normal circumstances it wouldn’t be.
Similarly, Mary and her cupcake store wouldn’t be interesting simply because opening a shop is a difficult thing to do in general. But if Mary doesn’t know how to make cupcakes, then her personal problem is what the story is judged on.
There are two things to bear in mind here. First, some problems are more interesting than others. You will have to use your own judgement when it comes to deciding if a character’s abilities (or lack of) are enough to warrant writing about. The way to judge this is easy: do you find it interesting?
The other thing is to make sure the motivations for a character are solid. Why would Mary open a cupcake shop if she can’t make cupcakes? Why would a guy with no training try climbing a mountain?
Once you have a situation your character finds very difficult but is forced to deal with, chances are that‘s a problem worth writing about.
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