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“Yeah, but…”

When you are writing a story “Yeah, but…” is almost as magical a phrase as “What if…?”

Sometimes, as I’m writing a story I realize that everything is going just too well. Whether it is fiction or a personal story the protagonist is moving alongĀ  too smoothly through life. Any obstacles fail to slow him down for long and victories come fairly easily. There are two problems with this.

First, life isn’t like that for most of us. We have real problems. Loss of sleep, gut-wrenching problems. The problems in your story need to be of this same high quality. Cheap and easy problems won’t do.

Second, a problem-free or easy problem story is usually dull. Readers and audiences don’t care for dull. They tune out. They are just not interested in someone else’s happy, easy, problem-free life because it is both unrealistic and boring.

So if you find that the story you are writing is perking along happily and easily, you had better insert a “Yeah, but…”‘ A “yeah, but…” is the train wreck, maybe major, maybe minor (major is better – more interesting). It’s the point where all that chirpy happiness come to a crashing halt because….

This is the problem, the obstacle. Maybe it’s one of many or maybe, in an anecdote, it’s the only problem. Make it a doozie. Remember in the fairy story the evil godmother put a spell on the princess so she fell asleep for a hundred years? Not a couple of weeks, not till her next birthday, but a whole century.

So when you are planning your next problem, think of your first stab at it as ‘she slept for a couple of weeks’. Work on the problem until it develops the same devastating quality as ‘she slept for a century’. This will make your protagonist have to work that much harder and more inventively to overcome it.

That’s good. It will make your story more riveting. People will not tune out or turn to something else. They might even remember it and be changed by it.

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