Animation Scriptwriting
Stories - Part Four: Decisions and Problems
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Problem solving

  • What is the problem?
  • What are the options for solving it?
  • What is the decision?
  • What is the action?
  • What is the result?

People need problems. If we don't have them then we go looking for them. The nature of the problems we get and can solve is very much an aspect of our personality. Sherlock Holmes loves problems, as do all detectives. James Bond also loves them. Winnie-the-Pooh doesn't. Most people's jobs involve problem solving of some sort. The ability to solve problems is a major talent.

Problems fall into different categories:

  • Problems we like to solve. Puzzles, games, decorating our house, creating our image, etc.
  • Problems that can be planned for. Paying our bills. Preparing a trip. Planning our future.
  • Problems that can be solved at a cost. Fixing the car, house, sorting out tax, in general anything that we can pay someone to do for us.
  • Problems that are difficult to solve. Generally problems that involve other people.
  • Problems that are impossible to solve. Life and death situations that you have little or no control over.

Some problems are ongoing and change with time:

  • A person studies for an exam to get into university. The problem is to pass the entrance exam.
  • Once at university the problem is to select a career.
  • Once a career has been selected the problem is finding a suitable job.
  • Once a suitable job has been found the problem is finding a suitable place to live near the job, and arranging all aspects of transport, and ones social life dependent on the job.

In all, the end problem was inherent in the starting problem. If one's early education is neglected then all the subsequent problems become more difficult to resolve. Many stories follow this line. Once a certain path has been taken in life the problems that follow can often be traced to the original decision. You might want to get married when envisaging a happy family, but regret it when you get divorced. You might join the army envisaging an adventurous career but regret it when wounded in battle. You might take to a life of crime envisaging easy wealth, but regret it when caught. You might even become a famous rock star but regret it when fame and fortune take its toll upon your life. It has been said that we each contain the seeds of our own destruction.

Problems can also be classed as Linear, and Non-linear. A linear problem is one that has a sequence of events to be followed through to be resolved. You are sitting down to dinner when water starts to pour through the ceiling. You realise someone has left the bath running. The sequence is first turn the bath tap off, secondly mop up as much as possible, thirdly get everything out of the way that is likely to be spoilt by the dripping water, and fourthly start to dry the place out as best you can. There is a line of action that once started follows through.

Robinson Crusoe had a linear problem when washed up on the beach. He first had to find food and water, then shelter, and then find out if the island was inhabited. The sequence of priorities was related to his survival potential.

Sherlock Holmes's problems were also linear. Once he had one clue he would then use that as a lead to the next one.

A non-linear problem might be where you on your way to an important meeting when your car breaks down. You have to sort out the problems of the breakdown as well as contact the people at the meeting, plus arrange other transport etc. That is, solving one part of the problem does not directly help solving other parts of it.

In the James Bond stories he has the objective of catching the villain. In the process he will get involved with lady friends and colleagues who also get themselves into danger. He then has to sort these problems out at the same time as pursuing his own objectives. The non-linear sequences allow all sorts of dramatic events to be brought in unexpectedly.

There are numerous problem-solving techniques that come up in stories. If you can analyse the technique in use then it gives a clue to how the characters will act in the situations.


Defintion: Problem

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