Are You the Problem or the Solution?

Do any of you remember the analytical portion of the GREs? My friend Tracy described it as “the test where seven kids wear red and seven wear blue, so you need to identify how many love Shakespeare.” I loved that portion, because it’s exactly the kind of problem-solving we all need on a daily basis. If you have to drop one child at gymnastics at 3, make a phone call between 2 and 4, pick up groceries (including milk), drop off cookies (from the grocery store) at church, and pick the child back up at 4, in what order do you accomplish these tasks? Remember: no phone calls while driving, the milk will start to turn in 30 minutes of the Texas heat, and the child needs to be absent or have a cookie to be quiet during the phone call.


The problem with being good at problem-solving is that fiction is largely about problem-creating. If things go well for your main character, you aren’t writing an exciting novel. Dennis Lehane said in an interview with the Drood Review: “I mean, poor Patrick, his worst enemy isn’t himself or some deranged murderer, it’s me.”


So how to solve the problem of solving your characters’ problems too easily?  I’m approaching the end of a novel and the analytical portion of my brain is working overtime to make everything run smoothly. So before I write a scene I stop and jot down notes. What do my characters want most of all? What scares them? I want my characters to be terrified…because then they make reckless, exciting choices that throw a wrench into the natural order of events. 


For Fun:


Sample Question from (answers to come in post later this week)


Seven piano students — T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z — are to give a recital, and their instructor is deciding the order in which they will perform. Each student will play exactly one piece, a piano solo. In deciding the order of performance, the instructor must observe the following restrictions:

  1. X cannot play first or second.
  2. W cannot play until X has played.
  3. Neither T nor Y can play seventh.
  4. Either Y or Z must play immediately after W plays.
  5. V must play either immediately after or immediately before U plays.


If V plays first, which one of the following must be true?

  1. T plays sixth.
  2. X plays third.
  3. Z plays seventh.
  4. T plays immediately after Y.
  5. W plays immediately after X.


If U plays third, what is the latest position in which Y can play?

  1. first
  2. second
  3. fifth
  4. sixth
  5. seventh


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One Response to Are You the Problem or the Solution?

  1. I love logic puzzles! 🙂

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