Story as Problem/Solution
It’s tempting to define story as a simple problem/solution equation. But problem/solution doesn’t accommodate the reality that humans experience problems that are simultaneously external and internal, and frequently caused by ourselves as much as the actions of others. Limiting a story to a format of problem/solution risks forcing a narrative to misrepresent certain solutions as more effective than they actually are. For instance, stories in the 1990s that blamed inconsistent standards as a primary cause of inadequate education led to massive investments in standardization and common core curriculums. Yet increasing the consistency of standardized approaches has not proved to the be the cure these stories promised. In many circumstances standardization actually decreased teachers’ ability to adapt their methods to suit the natural inconsistencies of diverse situations.
Run an experiment on yourself to test the results of using problem/solution as a format. Pull up a real-life significant emotional experience and impose the problem/solution frame on it until you can see for yourself what gets lost in translation. I’ve got one. The problem: I wasn’t happy living in my hometown. The Solution: I moved. The missing elements of the story are that I still love many aspects of my hometown. My mother is living and I have great friends there. I told my mother that I moved for business reasons but that’s not entirely true, either. I didn’t want to be rude, but I also wanted to be in a more diverse culture that was in better economic shape than my hometown. Plus, I really like starting over because it’s a creative process. And of course, I might end up unhappy again in my new town if I’m simply in the habit of being unhappy. If I told the story as if moving solved my problems it would be a misleading oversimplification.
Excerpt from Chapter 11, 3rd ed. of The Story Factor (2019) AUDIBLE VERSION HERE