Central Problem

By GREG MAFFETT | Published: November 11, 2011

"What is the central problem with your book?"

"I need to rewrite it."

"That's the solution, I asked about the problem."

"Well, it is written like a 50's serial, no one reads them anymore."

"No your main character, what is you main character's central problem?"

"Well, he has a lot of them."

I nod. That is exactly the problem. This main character of his just seems to wobble around town looking for a problem. And the reader does the same until he gets bored and drops the book.

"Did you pick up the books I suggested?"

He nods.

"Did you read the first chapters?"

Another nod.

"And?" I ask expectantly

"They were pretty good, but those guys are pro's."

I folded my hands so as not to use them in a way that would later cause me to be standing in front of a judge. Discipline, I thought. Ballet dancers have 100 times their body weight in discipline. I never would have made it as a dancer. Nope. Not me. I'd not be here if I had those skills.

"So let's go one at a time." I take a deep breath and let it out.


He got a puzzled look on his face and then unpuzzled it with a



""Um, he was burnt to a crisp."

I tapped the table a few times.

"That's all?"

"Well he was a porn star and he burnt his dick off in the fire, so...he was unemployed."

Not exactly how I saw the central problem, but close enough. At least he read it.

"So" he went on "you are saying that my main character should be unemployed?"

I steeple my fingers. Good that helps.

"I'm saying it is your book. I'm saying you need to have an idea what your character's central problem is, if you want people to read it. Perhaps something that they can identify with. You want them as a partner, you want them to get in the passenger seat of your book, go along for a ride."

He pauses a second.

"Wouldn't they have gotten burned to a crisp in the fire too?"

The fingers, they were cupping my forehead now. Stay focused.

"Ok the other book then, you read the first chapter of that?"

He nods.

"And the problem there?"

"Oh he was a gifted slacker with a poor academic record trying to get accepted into school."

Not bad, he did seem to get that one.

"You see what I'm saying now."

Blank stare across from me.

Deep breath here.

"Ok, you don't have to make your character a gifted slacker who can't get accepted, you just have to figure out what his central problem is. You need to give people that reason to go along for the ride."

I could see he was thinking, or something.

"So how..."

"Well there are a number of ways. One of the simplest is Faulkner's approach."

"Which is?"

"Was-he's dead now. Anyway, his approach was to follow his characters around and write down what they said."

"But my character's aren't real..."

"Really? it seems like it is your and your buds tooling around town with different names."

"Nah, I sit here at the typer and imagine what we'd do if we were out. I don't really have the time to tool."

"Ok, that's all I got then..."

I could see he was lost. Totally Immobile. I wasn't getting through to him.

There was nothing left to do but leave him sitting at the table. I got up, pushed my chair in . Walked to the door, closed it behind me and started down the hall.

Then I heard the chair.

Then the door.

Then the footsteps.

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