When I started out writing, my stories were just a series of quite interesting events. A lack of experience and planning meant that I didn’t have enough structure in my story, so the characters meandered through the pages without a clear purpose.
A problem, at the beginning of the story, changes all of that. It is a very effective way of grabbing the reader’s attention. It also gives the characters a goal, drives the story and keeps the reader interested.
In Lust and Found, a story I wrote for the Smitten series, Sienna goes to Cambodia to check on her brother. There, she discovers he’s gone missing. Sienna now has a problem and a mission – her brother is lost and she has to find him. From there Sienna goes on to face more obstacles – she doesn’t think much of the third world, her boyfriend gets sick and her brother’s flatmate, who promises to help, makes things more difficult.
Losing something or someone is a common problem for a main character to face. Another effective way to start a story is to give the main character something. They might find something interesting – like a map, a note or an alien space ship, or they might gain super human strength or the ability to read minds.
In Blood Money, one of the stories in the Hazard River series, the gang finds a bag of money on the riverbank. It’s a problem because they can’t agree on what to do with it. More obstacles come their way as they try to uncover where the money has come from.
Often a character wants something or someone that is out of his or her reach. This is an obvious tool in romance stories. In Tall, Dark and Distant, another title from the Smitten series, Georgia falls for a guy she encounters when she’s out for a run. There are many impediments to the two of them getting together, but it is Georgia’s desire to make things work with Nik that drives the story along.
There’s a quick test you can use to determine if a story has a definite problem and the characters have a clear goal that will drive the story along. See if you can sum up your story in one sentence. If you can’t, you might find that you’ve got a series of interesting events. Perhaps the problem is lost in the middle somewhere and needs to be moved to the beginning of the story to give the main characters a goal.
Good luck with your problems!