My son was reading to me last night, a book called Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days, about a boy and his dog in the wintertime. They play in the snow, they enjoy Christmas Eve dinner, they sit by the fireplace with the boy's parents. It's a fine book, but perhaps not the most sophisticated piece of literature ever crafted. When he finished reading, my son said: "I wonder why there's no problem in this book? There should be a problem."
At 7 years old, thanks in part to the most awesome first-grade teacher ever and thanks in part to his own innate sense of narrative requirement, my son understands that for a story to hold our attention, there needs to be a "problem." Conflict. Tension. Without the problem, there's no reason for the story. The problem is the catalyst, the trigger, the starting place. It's what sets a piece of writing in motion. Otherwise, the writing just sits there, like a boy and his dog in front of a warm fire on a wintry eve. Which is a nice experience to have, like, in your life, but it's not especially interesting to read about.
What we want from a story is simple: Conflict, action, resolution. If we have those things, we'll forgive almost anything else. My two most recent television addictions, Storage Wars and Criminal Minds are excellent illustrations of this concept. If you watch these shows, you understand something important about storytelling.... »Read more »