Do you ever read a book or see a movie and think to yourself, “Where’s the tension?”
When it seems like a given that nothing bad will ever happen to your characters (ahem, Disney Star Wars), things get boring.
It’s analogous to music: we need tension and release, delayed gratification, point and counterpoint.
No matter the kind of story, we usually want to see our characters face difficulties and then overcome them. Along with this, we want the outcome to be uncertain even as we hope for the best.
I remember reading comic books as a kid. There was a brief period in the 80 and into the early 90s where, when something bad happened, like a character dying, it had consequences.
Related to this is the joy, albeit a perverse one, audiences take in seeing protagonists make tough choices: Does our hero save the child from a burning building, or capture our villain, who we know will kill more later one? Does our hero steal the life-saving medication for his friend or spouse or child at the expense of someone else dying, or leave it and look for another solution?
This isn’t to say that ambiguity is the magic formula for a compelling story. It means that the instances when there are no “good” choices make for interesting stories. Continue reading “Tough Choices (In Writing and In Life)”