The solution comes first. That’s not the case all the time, but I’ve been looking at the process of developing story outlines and what I’m seeing is that the most logical place to start is with the solution. In location, the solution is the first half of the second act. This is the section that Blake Snyder called the fun and games section because this is where the characters are doing all the fun stuff that we see in the movie trailer. In the movie Up, which I talked about before, this is the section in which the house goes floating into the wild blue yonder. In Where the Red Fern Grows this is where Billy trains the dogs. In Searching For Mom this is where Sara searches the Internet for someone she can set her father up with. And if you were going to tell a literary agent what your book is about, this is the section that you would focus most of your attention on. This section is what the book is about.
I think you see where I’m going with this. Without an interesting solution, the whole story is ruined. It’s pointless to give much thought to the rest of our story until we have a good solution. Of course we may have situations in which the problem triggers the idea for the solution, but once we have the solution and have amped it up a little, we may have to come up with a better problem to fit our solution. We might look at our e-mail one day and ask ourselves what we could do to stop the spam. And we think about how nice it would be to track down the person who’s sending it and destroy their computer. Of course, that would require a lot more work and risk than it’s worth, so we won’t do that. But it gives us the solution for a story, track down some spammers and destroy their stuff. Then we amp it up. The spammer we really need to track down lives out of the country. While we’re at it, let’s say our character carries a gun while he tracks down these guys. But now our problem (ordinary spam) isn’t big enough for the solution. To correct that, we make the problem such that the protagonist’s child responds to a spammer and is kidnapped. Now we understand the motivation for the solution.