For our second edition of Story Elements, part of the What I’ve Learned series, we’re going to look at Situation. It’s probably the easiest concept of the 5 Story Elements, so we won’t spend too much time on it.
Situation is somewhat self explanatory: it is the external situation or state of affairs that your character must deal with. Ideally, you want to set up the big situation from the start of the book. Sally Protagonist visits home after pursuing her journalism career for a decade only to find that her mother is going to lose the family flower shop. She must find a way to save the shop and keep her editor back in the big city happy. Or perhaps: Marshall Main, a jaded cop, is pulled into the seamy underside of the city in trying to help a young runaway who’s now disappeared. The brass don’t want him searching for this kid, for reasons unknown, yet he’s compelled by the last conversation he had with the girl before her disappearance.
Creating situations can sometimes be difficult in much the same way creating characters can be difficult. Your situation must be believable, but it must also be universal in some way, so that the reader can relate to what your character is about to go through or is trying to accomplish. And even as it’s relate-able, it must also be unique in some way. You must bring something to it that no one else has. Yet, the uniqueness can be something as simple as an unexpected setting. Or a slight twist of the norm–a young boy runs away from the circus, instead of running to join it. In this case, the universal aspect is the idea of escape from an unpleasant life or situation.
Of course, you will have your main situation, but also, over the course of the story, different situations string together to form your plot. Your character, by his actions, will be put in difficult circumstances and will have to find a way out. Each situation leads to another situation and by this method, your story is told!
Stay tuned for the third installment: Objective!