Create an Interesting Dilemma

Before you start writing anything, take a moment to make sure your story has an interesting dilemma. An interesting dilemma forces the hero to choose between two choices so the story is really about which choice will the hero choose?

“Eye in the Sky” is about British and American forces tracking terrorists in Kenya. Initially the goal is to track the terrorists and capture them. However, while spying on the terrorists, they learn that the terrorists are giving suicide vests to volunteers. Now the first dilemma is that if the police raid the compound, the suicide bombers will blow themselves up and kill the police.

So the British and Americans decide to launch a missile strike at the terrorists. Now the second dilemma is that the missiles will risk killing innocent people nearby. So the goal is to kill the terrorists and minimize the risk of killing innocent people.

What creates suspense and tension in a story is knowing both what the hero needs to do and wondering which option the hero will choose.

Using a more familiar example, “Star Wars” creates the dilemma for Luke. Should he use his tracking computer to launch his photon torpedoes? Or should he trust the Force?

In “Titanic,” the dilemma is should Rose allow herself to marry a man she doesn’t love just for financial security, or should she risk it all and live the life she truly desires?

In “Avatar,” the dilemma is should the hero ally himself with the aliens or should he stick with the humans? This is identical to the dilemma in “Dances With Wolves” where the hero has a choice of sticking with the Native Americans or siding with the Union troops?

A dilemma is what makes any story interesting. Eliminate this choice between a rock and a hard place and you really don’t have much of a story. Force the hero to choose between a rock and a hard place and you suddenly have an interesting story.

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