Problems and Solutions

The way to tell an interesting story is to use a four-part story structure like this:

  • Problem occurs
  • Solution found
  • Bigger problem occurs
  • New solution found

This four-part story structure can work in defining the entire story, a single Act, or just a single scene. For example, “Star Wars” looks like this with a four-part story structure defining the overall plot:

  • Act I — Luke wants to have an adventure
  • Act IIa — Luke follows Obi-wan and leaves his planet
  • Act IIb — The Death Star captures Luke
  • Act III — Luke blows up the Death Star

Now identify a single Act of “Star Wars” such as Act I like this:

  • Problem — Luke wants to leave his uncle’s farm but his uncle convinces him to stay for one more season
  • Solution — Luke meets R2D2 who leads him to Obi-wan
  • Bigger problem — Stormtroopers kill Luke’s aunt and uncle
  • New solution — Luke decides to go with Obi-wan and leave his uncle’s farm

Pick a single scene in “Star Wars” and you’ll see this four-part story structure works there too:

  • Problem — Luke and Obi-wan need to find a pilot to take them to Princess Leia’s planet
  • Solution — Luke and Obi-wan hire Hans Solo
  • Bigger problem — Stormtroopers are looking for Obi-wan
  • New Solution — Luke and Hans blast their way on to the Millennium Falcon and escape the stormtroopers

Analyze entire stories, acts, and individual scenes in any good movie and you’ll find that this four-part story structure helps create tension and suspense. After all, there’s no excitement in watching someone pursue a goal and get it right away.

That’s why you need to insert a problem that stops the hero from getting a goal. Then the hero finds a solution, but this would still be boring, so a bigger problem needs to appear. This forces the hero to struggle one more time to finally achieve the initial goal.

By throwing one minor and one major problem at the hero, you can tease the audience and drag out the tension and suspense.

When plotting your overall story, use this four-part story structure. When plotting each Act, use this four-part story structure. When writing scenes, use this four-part story structure.

It’s not a formula so much as a guideline to help you create tension and suspense to maintain interest in your story. Ultimately the goal isn’t to follow a structure so much as it is to tell an interesting story, and this four-part story structure helps guide your thinking into telling a story that leaves the outcome constantly in doubt until the end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Story Structure

Previous article

Study Novels