Posts Tagged ‘problem’

“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 along¬† 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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Just about every story features a problem. No problem means no story.¬† If a man and woman meet, fall in love, marry and live happily ever after there is no story. If the spacecraft flies around the world with no hitches or systems failures there’s no story.

Every story needs a problem, an obstacle or an antagonist to be overcome – that’s what makes people listen. Furthermore the problem has to test the protagonist. Whatever he is going up against needs to be an adversary worthy of him. If you have Arnold Schwartznegger going up against a ten year old boy there’s no story – unless the boy wins. A ten year old boy going up against Arnold Schwartznegger has the makings of a good story. David and Goliath – the surprise ending.

The problem can be almost anything. Often it is a person or people – Cinderella’s ugly sisters, Dr. No, Professor Moriarty. There have been some wonderful, spectacular villains in our literature. None of them has been a pushover – each has presented enormous problems.

The problem can be a personal issue such as addiction or a bad habit that must be overcome. In this case the villain of the piece is internal, with the protagonist fighting himself.

The problem might be geographic – a mountain to be climbed or an ocean to be sailed. The struggle is against the cold, the wind, the tide. Each is impersonal and unforgiving.

The problem might be random circumstance – a random stranger attacks a teenager. It could be extra-terrestrial – a Star Wars type story or a paranormal story with an evil ghost. It could be a struggle against a bear or a lion, and there was a film where flocks of birds were the enemy.

And speaking of enemies, of course there are war stories, and the enemy in your own camp might be the true antagonist rather than the enemy in the opposing camp.

As a speaker, many of your stories will be motivational and you will be using examples of how you managed to overcome your own problems or weaknesses. You were tired and you wanted to sleep in but you knew you had to take your son to his 8 a.m. soccer game. This is a more subtle problem and a more subtle enemy. You pile on the justification for staying in bed – you had worked hard, long hours all week, you had been up half the night with a sick baby; no-one could blame you for sleeping in. Do you get up or not? Make it an epic struggle, with the reason for your decision tying tightly to the point in your motivational speech.

Your problems need to be memorable but they do not have to be massive. Subtle battles are important too. Poignancy and emotional pull can give a story value. Listeners or readers who get value will keep coming back for more.

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Your brand is the story of who you are. Well, let’s say it’s the image of you that you carefully create thruogh story.

Look at an example – Smuckers. They make jam. They have large factories, men in white coats doing quality control, huge vats of jam and preserves, trucks coming and going – everything that goes with production on a national and even international scale.

Do they talk about any of this in their ads? No. They have great grandfather Smucker out in the fields, talking to the strawberry plants, persuading clouds to drop rain, hanging little night lights. Awww.

So Smuckers could, if they wished, spend money telling the mothers of America how they have clean and sanitary factories producing jam that’s safe to eat, or how they have taste testers ensuring quality, or they produce more jam than…. Well, you get the picture.

Instead they have chosen the gentle, fairy tale-like picture of the wise old man wandering thoughtfully through his fields making sure that each little plant gets enough light or water. The clouds and the fireflies help him along.

Logical? Uh uh. Assuming there ever was a grandfather Smucker he certainly didn’t influence the clouds to drop moisture on his fields.

But what a good story! You can practically feel the warmth, gentleness and kindness. And that’s the point. The story makes you FEEL. You can think what you want about other kinds of jam, made in hygienic factories using the latest technology, but you FEEL Smuckers.

This goes beyond the twin virtues of features and benefits. It expresses your underlying value system. If you have decided that speed of service will set your company apart form the competition, then find a story to tell about it. How did your fast service solve a problem? It doesn’t have to be absolutely true, but it does have to have the feeling of truth (or, like Smuckers, be so fairy tale-like that it would never be taken for truth).

You might have lots of stories about how your service solved a problem. Choose the one that tugs the heart strings. Set aside logic and go for ‘Aww’, especially if you are dealing with the public. Don’t underestimate the power of a puppy, a kitten or a little child. Even if your brand emphasizes strength and power you can show how that can be used in a gentle, personal manner. There’s the huge crane whose operator managed to release a tangled bird from a tree top. Yes, the crane stretches this high, this far across, carries this much weight. Interesting. BUT it saved that poor struggling bird.

It’s a money in the bank branding story.

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