Here’s the other thing about my Dad that confuses me. (Well, there’s more than two, but I’m trying to focus, here.)
When he reads for pleasure, he likes mysteries, or those adventure kinds of stories where the hero saves the world because he uncovered the enemy’s secret plan just in time.
If you give him a book that simply tells a story, though … he’s bored. He wants a plot that’s working to solve something, or to figure something out, otherwise it’s too mundane; there’s no point. Okay, I can appreciate that. I like books like that, too. Yet, if I hand him a book that tells a real-life story of defeating a terrorist plot, or saving the world by deciphering a code just in time, he says that’s boring, too, because it’s history.
No point? Boring?
Obviously my father doesn’t understand the point of a good story … It’s not just that they are entertaining, but they are about problem-solving.
The detective is presented with a twisty murder and must follow the clues to find the killer. The FBI agent catches wind of a plot to destroy the Capitol building and races against time to prevent it. How is that different than reading about the problems the Allies faced in deciphering the Enigma Machine in WWII? Or how we finally stopped the global flu pandemic in 1914? The way those stories play out fascinate me.
Puzzles aren’t limited to mysteries, though.
Even in “quieter” stories, characters in books face problems every day.
They may not be life-and-death, but there are always puzzles to solve. How to make ends meet. How to raise the children after the husband takes off. How to rehabilitate the troubled dog you brought home from the shelter. How to keep your close-knit group of friends together after college. How to find the girl who left the shoe in the ballroom.
The best stories have some kind of conflict, something that need to be solved or fixed or prevented.
Sure, that can be a person with a gun or a vengeful serial killer, but they could also be the character’s own memories that prevent them from succeeding, or the dysfunctional family that comes to him for help every minute of the day.
The trick as a writer (and not just a fiction writer) is to find the problem and tell how the protagonist solved it.
Because, obviously, keeping my father entertained is hard.