Ah, philosophy. Sorry.

One of the basic notions of a story is that conflict is created at the start, then resolved at the end. The value of this idea is questionable. There must be books written that way, though I can't offhand think of any.

One problem is being too narrow. Suppose a lightning storm comes up and your main character has to flee to safety. You could call that a conflict between man and nature; people do. But calling that a conflict is like twisting yourself in a yoga pose, except there are no health benefits.

It saves a lot of time and trouble if it's just called a problem: The problem is created at the start and then resolved at the end. For example, the problem might be solving a crime or rescuing a victim. That more general category includes dangers or opportunities. And the problem could be a conflict, although calling it a problem takes one of the character's perspective.

No Obvious Problems

In The Help U Give, the main character goes to a party, meets a friend, they go driving, the police stop them, then her friend is shot and killed. If I paid you enough money, you could find a conflict there. But I don't know what you would find, because there is no obvious conflict.

Does she have a problem? You can imagine problems she might have, though I don't really know what you will imagine. Actually, you don't know the context, so you can't even guess right. I mean, she has the same goals anyone would have, like to not get shot herself. But that isn't the story.

What Does a Story Need?

Let's think again about this start. What it does create is interest – the author has created a very interesting situation. That's what a start need to do. I already said that.

To be sure, problems can be interesting. So can conflict. Those are good ways of creating interest. They just are not the only way.

This start does something else – it essentially drives the plot, which is to say, it creates consequences, and the consequences are the story. But I already said that too – a story has a precipitating incident. (Or there is an existing problem.)

And again, a problem or conflict is a good precipitating incident. It's just not the only possibility.

They Are Like Weeds

Consider my drive to work this morning (with an implied goal that I want to get to work). I don't like driving, so I wanted my drive to be as quick as possible (goal), so I frequently tried to choose the fastest lane (problem). Today I couldn't decide between music or news (internal conflict). I have to deal with drivers who cut me off and drive annoying slow or who think I am driving annoying slow (conflict). I almost forgot to get gas (problem, suspense, resolution).

The point is, this random slice of my life is full of problems, conflicts, and goals. But that doesn't make my story interesting. It's not.

So, in a way, the advice to form a problem, conflict, or goal is pointless – they are unavoidable. And succeeding doesn't accomplish anything.

Of course, if the conflict/problem/goal is interesting, that's great. Are those the only way to create interesting starts? No. You can have an interesting character (for example, The Color Purple) or an interesting situation or world.

The Fate of That Initial Problem

Suppose you create a problem for your main character in your start. It could be that your character has this problem for the entire book, and it is resolved in your dramatic conclusion.

I will point out that even that isn't likely. The problem is very likely to escalate. When it does, the original problem might disappear or seem very unimportant. Sometimes the original simply transforms -- the problem is not really the problem. For example, the main character discovers that the bad guys are really the good guys.

Sometimes the causal chain simply dies. The story essentially stops, plot-wise, and the author has to reboot the story. This is not particularly good, but it's not lethal. My favorite book essentially does that.

The point is, even when a book starts with a problem, it rarely ends with solving that same problem.


If you establish a problem/conflict at the start, then resolve it at the end, that gives your book coherence. If the problem escalates, there is still coherence. But I said that – coherence is good. This might even be the best way to create coherence. But there are other ways, and coherence isn't that important.