When should the story’s central problem be introduced?

by John
(Phionex,Az USA)

Question: When drafting a short story, at what point in the plot should the story’s central problem be introduced?


Answer: It really doesn't matter, as long as it is made clear at some point.

Some stories establish the problem early on. The main character is sent on a quest or mission or given a problem to solve. The rest of the story shows how he tries to solve it, and whether he succeeds.

Other stories are more of a mystery for the reader. One sees the characters doing things, but doesn't know why. Finally, at some point a crucial fact or statement appears that, like a key in a lock, makes everything clear.

You can also write a story in which the goal is made clear early on but the consequence is hidden. This makes for a different sort of mystery in which the reader can see the main character making a huge effort, possibly enduring substantial costs, but doesn't know why (perhaps wonders if the character is crazy)--until the end in which all is revealed.

Or you could do a story in which characters face an approaching doom, only to discover late in the game, perhaps by accident, that a different and preferable end is possible and that all their adventures brought them to the place where they can make such a discovery.

In fact, all the 8 plot elements (including forewarnings, requirements, costs, dividends, prerequisites, and preconditions) are what Dramatica calls "static" elements because it doesn't matter where they appear in the story. As long as they make an appearance somewhere, they have an impact on the story.

Also, in longer works you may repeat these elements, perhaps in different ways, throughout the story to emphasize their impact.

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