2/24/14

A Problem To Be Solved

My apologies for the lack of post last week. Time and school and everything got away from me {although, as I was reminded by my grandfather this week, "excuses are well-planned lies."} {whaaat, people read my blog??}.

I'm finally to the point where physics and writing intersect. This semester, I'm taking junior lab, which carries an upper-division writing flag and requires me to actually put on my writing gloves. For once.

Our professor highly recommends Strunk & White's Elements of Style, and he is right to do so. He keeps encouraging us to turn our reports into a story. I know exactly what he means from reading a number of books {none of which are actually about writing novels, surprisingly}. I got caught in a vortex of new software for the first report and so wasn't able to devote much time to story-telling, but it is a comforting thing to be in a physics class and know at least one thing that is going on. Story-telling. I can do that.

The ability to tell a good story is not a skill limited to authorship. It is necessary in every part of life.

What I am about to tell you, I learned mostly from the three following books:
  • A Million Miles In a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, by Donald Miller {written for normal people}
  • The Elements of Story, by Francis Flaherty {written for journalists}
  • Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder {written for screenwriters}
{Honestly, you'll learn much more about story-telling from picking up any of those books. Your storytelling skills will definitely improve if you take the time to read them.}

A problem to be solved. That's the most important thing to learn about telling stories--any kind of stories. Novels, films, memoirs, news articles, and lab reports. You have to start with a problem to be solved.

Think about it. When you pick up something to read, what makes you turn to the second page? {Yes, this is something that has to be established by the first page.} You may tell me that you're just interested or intrigued by the story, but let's dig a little deeper into what that means.

It means you have questions. And I'll bet your questions have something to do with a wondering of how a problem is going to be solved.

In Star Wars, we immediately meet two likable droids whose ship is under attack. Our question? Who are they and how are they going to escape? The problem? They're under attack!

In The Hunger Games, the problem is immediately presented: Katniss is struggling to support her family.

In Frozen, Elsa has a power that hurts the people she loves.

In every news article you've ever read, a problem is presented: People are starving. People are dying. People need healthcare. People pay too much for healthcare. The police are abusing their power. The police need more power. Tuition is too high. The university is running out of money. Problem after problem after problem.

And why do you read on? Because you need to find out how the problem is or can be solved.

It's the same with a lab report. Granted, it's a little difficult when you're doing experiments that have been done before with predicted results. I've gotten around this by stating that the problem is our need to confirm the results. If you didn't know what the results should be, the paper would be a bit easier. You could simply state the problem: This does this and we don't know why, so we're going to find out. Bam. Problem.

No one wants to turn to the second page if there's not a problem on the first page. If there's no problem, you don't care. Why should you? There's no need!

Good story-telling begins with a problem to be solved. And everything you write with words is a story. Emails, articles, books, and lab reports. All are stories. If you want people to read them and enjoy it, start with a problem to be solved.