Problem and Desire: The First Spark


Problems and desires are catalysts for everything great that is ever created. They set our normal life off balance and send us tumbling toward the next big thing. The first guy to light a fire had them. They were hidden in the sparks.

If you are far from home, chances are it’s because of a problem or desire. Or sometimes you just feel far from home even when you’re there. What’s the problem? What’s the desire?

Write them down. Two Sentences.

That might be the first spark of your story.

Or perhaps you have a really great anecdote. Find the problem and desire within the anecdote and it becomes a story. Something that will captivate the attention of your readers.


Because we’re all riddled with these things. Problems and desires keep us from sitting still, they won’t let us sleep at night, they even drive us crazy sometimes. So when fictional characters are charged full of them, we feel it.

Let’s take a look at the principle in action.

The Kid by Salvatore Scibona is a short story that grabs you by the trachea. At least I was short of breath when I read it. I’ll look at the whole story in the next blog (which takes this spark and turns it into a scene) but for now just read the first paragraph:

The boy wore a black parka, a matching ski cap, bluejeans, and sneakers; he appeared to be five years old; and he was weeping.

We’ve got a character and a problem.

Now the second paragraph:

He stood at Gate C3, Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel Airport, his padded arms limp at his sides. He was talking through his sobs—not shouting or pleading, just talking to one attendant after another—but no one could figure out what language he was using. It seemed, somehow, Polish. The hodgepodge dialect of a town that ten different empires had captured on their way to someplace else.

We’ve got an even bigger problem, we’re in an airport and we don’t know where he’s from or where he’s going, in fact we don’t even know what he’s saying, but he has a desire. Probably that most basic desire of every child, he wants protection, he wants his parents.

Can you identify with that? Do you feel it? And it’s probably not even your problem right now, but it digs deep.

So let’s spark the same magic for your story:

  1. Problem

Is there something wrong with us as humans because we’re drawn to hearing other people’s problems?

Not particularly. I don’t think so.

Problems give us the opportunity to show what we’re made of. Plus we connect to each other as humans through the vulnerability created by problems. Because of this, problems hold a lot of meaning. When you start your story off balance, the reader will devour it in search of the resolution.

Take a minute to juice the problem out of your situation. What was not right with the world at that moment?

  1. Desire

Desire is the flip-side of the same coin. If you’re homeless, you want a home. If you’re insatiably materialistic, you want a mansion. These are not different animals. In fact, they’re twins, except desire is the bossier pushier one.

Desire propels the character through the story, so he comes out differently than he entered. In life, your desire is the vehicle to your greatest possible future. In a story, desire is the vehicle to the climax, where everything explodes.

What do your characters want? It might be the reason they found themselves in their current situation or it might be the emotions they have toward one another.


Start scribbling ideas while they’re fresh. Don’t wait for them to come to you in story form. Click the link to use the Story Sparker Worksheet to help you brainstorm. You can download it as a Word doc.

Honestly, I’ve gotten half way through writing a story and forgotten the problem and desire. And yet when I went back and really engaged myself in it, I found that it was the life blood of the project. That’s what makes it a great place to start. It’s essential to keep going back, and asking these questions every step of the way. In fiction and in life.

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