Amp up Your Story Impact: Pushing Against and Leaning In

You may have heard something about the catastrophic failure of our utility systems in Texas during last week’s Snowpocalypse that left millions without power and water for days.

Including us.

At first we were plucky about it. With no water for two days we gathered buckets of snow and melted, boiled, and filtered it for drinking water. When the power went out we braced for the 2-degree temps overnight, swaddled ourselves and our dogs in blankets, and were grateful for our Kindles and each other. It was unpleasant, but an adventure, and over and over we said how grateful we were for each other, that we and our dogs and loved ones were safe and had shelter, that we could find ways to get by. We checked on friends, neighbors, shared resources, offered help, accepted it when needed. We were doing okay.

But when we entered day five with no water (though grateful to finally have power back), we were over it. Our situation was arguably better than it had been—we had power, heat, gas, enough water to get by (carefully) till it came back on (hopefully), and the ice outside was thawing enough that we could finally safely leave the house if need be and look for supplies or take generous friends up on offers of water and showers.

And yet our attitudes were much worse. The situation felt harder than it had when we were in the worst of it, freezing cold in the dark and taking shepherded sips of boiled snow that tasted like dirt.

The difference in our discomfort and mind-set was acceptance—leaning in as we did at first, making the best of the unavoidably bad situation—versus pushing against, which we did as our fortitude wore thin.

While life was easier when we leaned in, fiction is juicier when your characters push against. Increasing resistance, conflict, friction all raise stakes, increase motivations, augment suffering for your characters in the very best sadistic tradition of good story.

(You can read how in the rest of this post on Writer’s Digest here.)

8 Comments. Leave new

  • Terrific post and an excellent analogy to illustrate the point for tension and force in our writing. Glad civilization is on the horizon. Stay warm stay safe.

    Reply
  • Lainey Cameron
    February 25, 2021 5:12 pm

    Oh man this is so helpful! It’s not putting my protag in what feels like an impossible situation -its her own resistance to it. Love that thought! And super timely for me.

    Thx for featuring this one in your newsletter – and turning a massive pile of lemon turd in Texas into insight for the rest of us!

    Reply
    • Tiffany Yates Martin
      February 25, 2021 6:19 pm

      I’m glad it’s useful! Sometimes it’s not adding more “stuff” happening to your protag–it’s adding more resistance that can help raise stakes/investment. As I learned firsthand. 😉

      Reply
  • That second arrow feels like the “reaction” part of a scene, before the character must recognize their dilemma and create a goal for pushing forward. Great analogy. Sorry you had to go through all that, but glad you found ways to cope and are safe and well.

    Reply
    • Tiffany Yates Martin
      February 26, 2021 2:19 pm

      Good analogy–in some ways I think it is the reaction, but from a point of resistance. It’s a bit beyond recognition in the form of acceptance of the situation–it’s recognition but resistance: “I recognize that my husband wants a divorce, but NO, that can’t happen.” That initial refusal to accept change, I think, is what can heighten stakes and impact even more in certain stories. Thanks for the observation!

      Reply
  • What an awesomely touching and helpful post! And I’m so glad to hear things are getting back to normal there.

    Reply

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