Resolve the problem

In any story there will be a problem the character has to face and those problems have to be resolved by the end of the story. Often readers will be anticipating the ending they hope to see. They will have recognised the strengths and weaknesses in the characters and they will want them to overcome their problems and solve them in a satisfying way through their own resolve and intelligence.

problem solving2

A common mistake for many new writers, writing their first children’s novel is to have an adult whether it is a parent/carer or in some cases a total new character who is actually a stranger to the reader, storm in a save the day. This is not a satisfactory ending and in a lot of cases it feels as if the author has cheated, in the same way as waking up and finding it was all a dream. I know as a reader I want the resolution to be because of the actions of the hero of the story.

This resolution should be built up in a series of stages throughout your plot so it does not come out of the blue. It needs to make sense to the reader. Satisfying story endings use elements from the story’s beginning and middle. Here is one idea for a step by step approach, which I use in my own writing:

steps to solve the problem

Step One

Clearly describe what the problem is so it is clear to the reader and state why this is an issue for your protagonist. Make it clear to the reader why it is your hero’s problem not anyone else’s and why they are the only one able to solve it.

Step Two

Initially the problem is going to cause some anxiety or fear. Ensure you make it clear in your writing how your character feels about the problem. They may be frustrated or angry or need to employ techniques to help them calm down and think clearly. It should be clear to the reader why they feel upset, annoyed, scared, etc.

Step Three

Show your hero’s thought process as they work through the problem. As a writer, it is helpful to brainstorm as many different solutions to the character’s problem as possible. In your brainstorm write why each idea will or why it will not work. Remember effective story resolutions come from the protagonist’s actions. Not every solution will work and not every story has a happy ending but they do have to make sense.

problem solving

Step Four

Write short scenarios to describe what would happen if your character undertook each of the solutions you came up with. Think:

  • Was the solution safe? A safe solution means no one will be hurt or upset.
  • Was the solution fair? How do the other characters in your story feel about each idea for the solution.
  • Did the antagonist get his comeuppance? In children’s books especially the reader wants good to overcome evil and friendship to prevail.

Step Five

Have the problem escalate as the story progresses. Each time they attempt to solve the problem it either becomes worse, or they are confronted by another obstacle. They may think they have solved the problem then realise the effect it has had on others and need to fix this. A solution may create a totally new and larger problem.

Step Six

Finally your protagonist is able to resolve the problem by learning from their mistakes and through their own determination and intelligence. Your character should have grown in some way and the other characters should be satisfied with the way the problem was resolved and any loose ends are tied just like when knitting a jumper.

The ultimate aim is to have a happy reader.

happy reader

You want them to keep reading to find out if your protagonist solves the problem and most importantly your reader should feel something at the end of the story. I hope this helps.he problem.

1 thought on “Resolve the problem

  1. Robert Billing

    Thanks, another very useful posting. This broadly is the structure I use, but with one difference. Usually for my protagonists the initial problem is that they don’t know what the problem is. In the WIP Jane is initially confronted by a dead body, someone who has been shot with a Space Fleet issue weapon. At the time of death the logs show there were no Space Fleet personnel on the planet.

    Something is wrong. Was the body moved? Tests show it wasn’t. Was the weapon moved? The logs say no.

    Jane knows that something is horribly wrong, but at the outset has no idea what it is. It takes half a dozen chapters for her investigations to reveal what the problem is. From then the normal arc continues, she tries to deal with the problem, falls foul of the antagonist, finds a way of using this to get control of the situation and finally defeats him.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.


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