The Unsolvable Dilemma

What makes a story particularly fascinating is when the hero gets him for herself trapped in an unsolvable dilemma created by the hero. In “Captain Underpants,” two kids hypnotize their principal to make him believe he’s Captain Underpants, a superhero. They do this because he’s threatening to separate them from class. So now the heroes are stuck in a dilemma. If they let the principal go back to himself, he’ll split them up, but if they keep him hypnotized forever as Captain Underpants, he’ll forever cause problems for them to fix. No matter what they do, it will be a problem.

“While You Were Sleeping” was about a woman who pretends to be the fiancĂ© of a man in a coma. However she then falls in love with this comatose man’s brother. Now the hero faces an unsolvable dilemma. When the comatose man wakes up, she’s got to reveal her deception, but since she’s falling in love with the comatose man’s brother, she can’t pretend she actually loves the comatose man.

Heroes get themselves stuck in unsolvable dilemmas because of their old way of life. They can’t return to their old way of life because it’s gone for good, and they can’t stay in their new way of life because they’re often deceiving people to get it. Either way, the hero loses precisely because he or she is still clinging to their old beliefs.

What creates an unsolvable dilemma is the hero’s inability to change. The hero’s old way of life represents the past and the hero’s new way of life represents the future, but the hero can’t embrace this future without shedding old beliefs and habits.

In “Captain Underpants,” the heroes realize they need to change from pulling pranks to cause chaos to pulling a prank to help people instead. Once these two kids change, they solve the previously unsolvable dilemma.

In “While You Were Sleeping,” the hero admits her deception to everyone. Because she’s changed, she’s inadvertently solved the unsolvable dilemma. By admitting she’s not in love with the comatose man but with his brother, she can finally be with her true love without any deception whatsoever.

The unsolvable dilemma cannot be solved by the hero’s old way of thinking, beliefs, and living. It can only be solved through the hero changing into a better person and finding a way around the unsolvable dilemma. Because the hero appears forced into an unsolvable dilemma, this creates tension and suspense as we wonder how the hero can possible succeed between two terrible choices. The moment the hero changes, then this unsolvable dilemma literally disappears.

The key to creating an unsolvable dilemma is to make the hero’s old way of life impossible to return to. In “Captain Underpants,” the heroes can’t release their principal from their control or else he’ll separate them for good. by cutting off the hero’s old way of life, you create one problem for the hero.

Next, you need to make sure the hero’s new way of life is unsustainable, usually because the hero can’t maintain a deception forever. Given the choice between returning to the past or staying with the new, the hero has a choice of two unappealing options, and that’s what forces the hero to change.

As soon as the hero changes, he or she can suddenly solve problems at the same time. Now the unsolvable dilemma that created tension is magically solved in an emotionally satisfying way because the hero changed and by changing, found a new solution that he or she wouldn’t have even thought about by sticking to the old way of thinking.

The unsolvable dilemma is important to force the hero to change and create a huge problem that looks impossible to overcome. This unsolvable dilemma will keep tension and suspense in your story from the beginning to the end.

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