An External Problem Will Trigger an Internal Change
The next thing that the reader expects. This is a complicated one. The reader expects that the story will be about one external problem, that's the plot problem, that will force the protagonist to struggle with one internal problem. So lets talk first about that plot problem. Readers know, we all know, when you read a story, you know that a story, is going to be about how someone solves a problem that they can not avoid. Because here's the thing about us as readers, as humans actually. As humans, in our lives, we try to avoid problems and conflict, as much as we possibly can. We really, we wanna stick to the straight and narrow. We don't want anything that's gonna upset the apple cart, or make us feel uncomfortable, or give us any kind of conflict, especially external conflict. That's what we come to story for. We come to story for precisely what we don't wanna deal with in real life. Just to see what it might actually be like. So, we expect there to be a problem, but that would be one...
problem. One plot problem that grows, escalates, and complicates from the very beginning, and kicks into gear right there on page one. Although chances are it's been building up until that moment. So the question that you're really asking yourself is, can your plot problem grow, escalate, and complicate from beginning to end? The problems that writers have, they're three problems that writers have when they write forward. One is they'll go, I know what that problem is absolutely, and then they write forward, and then somehow, like, by chapter three, that problem seems to be resolved. And it's like, now what happens after that? And it's kind of like, as the Great Philosopher Seneca said, a couple of millennia ago, if a sailor does not know to what port she is steering, no wind is favorable to her. I mean, do you go forward, do you go left, do you go right, what happens? I actually think what happens at that point, is the writer discovers that they're hungry, and they go into the kitchen and they get a snack. And I think that's partly why, as they say, 97 out of 100 people who sit down to write a first draft, or a novel, never get past the first draft. The other problem that writers have, is they'll have a problem, and they start writing forward, and then somehow by about chapter three that problem seems to have dissipated. It's not building, nothing's happening. In fact, people aren't even talking about it anymore. That is the place where writers start writing really, really beautifully. Like it's really gorgeous, and it's kind of like, she moves her left foot, she moves her right foot. There's a lot about what what things look like, and there are a lot of sensory details. And so what, who cares? The other problem that writers have, is they have a hard time diving into that it is one problem that grows, escalates, and complicates from beginning to end. One problem. They'll go well, why not, if ones good, two's twice as good right? Not so! And so what happens is, is that they'll write forward, and they've got two problems that don't have anything to do with each other. The reader, because we expect it to be one problem that grows, escalates, and complicates is waiting for that problem to come together. In fact, they are making up ways as to how and why it might come together. Might even be, might ask them, and they'll give you some idea, and then you'll go, oh yeah, I could've written that as one thing. But, so we're reading forward, and we're waiting for them to come together, and by the time it gets clear that they're not gonna come together, we've spent so much time trying to figure out how they would, that we're pulled out of the story, and by then we're not really sure which of these two to give our allegiance to anyway, and now we've been catapulted outta the story, and we're thinking, our thinking brain is back up. We're not living in that world of the story. And lets face it, the minute your thinking brain comes up, what it thinks is, I want a snack. That must be my thinking brain all the time. So we stop reading. So the first question you wanna ask is, can your plot problem grow, escalate, and complicate from beginning all the way to the end. But wait, there's more. Because that problem, needs to then force your protagonist to make an internal change. Because stories are not, as we'll discuss. As we'll discuss over, and over, and over. Stories are not about the plot. That's not a problem, because there's no such thing, as a generic problem. There's not problem in and of itself. A problem is a problem, because it affecting somebody, and it's forcing them to make an internal change, vis la vie dealing with that problem that they can not avoid. So the question is, does the plot, scene, by scene, by scene, by scene, force your protagonist to struggle with an internal problem? Which we will discuss in much greater detail here. So I won't go into great detail in it in this particular, particular point. But I wanna give you an example. Let me give you an example of this. I use movies rather than books, and the example I'm gonna to give you is Die Hard. It is the original Die Hard, so basically you are picturing Bruce Willis with hair. So, Die Hard. Let's talk about Die Hard for one minute, and it doesn't matter if you've never seen it, 'cause I think I do this well enough so that you will get it. What's the plot, the one problem, in Die Hard that grows, escalates, and complicates? There is absolutely a plot problem. Plot problem is, and here's what happens in Die hard, Bruce Willis, he's John McClane, New York City cop. His wife who's in finance, and apparently doing very well indeed, gets a promotion, and she needs to transfer to Los Angeles, and he doesn't wanna go. He's not gonna go, not gonna go. So she's gone, she's taken the kids, she's gone to LA, they're estranged, their not divorced. You kind of know that they both really like each other, but they are estranged. So the plot of Die Hard is, is it starts on Christmas Eve. Bruce Willis, first time he's gonna see her since she left. He's flying from New York to Los Angelus. He's gonna meet her at her office building, called Nakatomi Plaza. It's giant building, but it's empty except for her company, which is having their Christmas party on the top floor. And when he gets there he discovers that pseudo-terrorists have taken over the building, and basically the plot is, is that he has to obliterate all of them, before they kill him, his wife, and everybody in the building. That's the plot of Die Hard. That's what happens in Die Hard. From beginning to end, one problem. Grows, escalates, and complicates from the beginning, but that is not what Die Hard is about. Because if it was just that you'd be bored, and you'd walk away immediately. You'd have no skin in the game. The question is, what is the internal change that, that plot forces Bruce Willis, or John McClane to deal with. And the internal change has to do with the fact of what he enters wanting. Which he wants to get his wife back. And what he needs to struggle with, is why he left, and why he left her. And what he needs to learn, and realize, going all the way forward, is what he needs to do in order to actually win her back. And that is the story that we're following all the way through. That is why we care whether or not he save -- I mean we want him to save those people too, for sure, y'know. And obviously he wants to save them too, because he doesn't wanna win her back in a body bag, that would be a pyrrhic victory. So for sure, he's gotta get rid of all the terrorists. But the external problem, forces him to really struggle with his internal problem, and that's what we're hooked on to, is that internal problem. So that is what you wanna ask yourself. Can that external plot problem force your protagonist to struggle with an internal problem, and make an internal change?