Don't Rush the Tension

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Creative magic happens when you learn to get really comfortable with discomfort

I was working on a video project pretty recently, giving feedback to how the story should flow. The video was for a nonprofit, highlighting a family they served. I was helping the filmmakers think through what story they wanted to tell in order to grab the right shots.

When we ended up looking at the different types of shots we would need, it became clear to me that we needed to capture a lot of shots of the family in their struggles, rather than their successes. This was a bit different for the organization that respectably wanted to show people as heroes rather than victims.

I agreed with that desire, but– you want that moment of victory to feel well earned, I highlighted. That means going through -not around- the parts of the story full of struggle.

I started to think of other movies as an example.

Like the Avengers. If you put the last two movies together, that’s almost seven hours to tell a single story. And six hours and forty minutes of that, give or take, featured the superheroes struggling. Things were going wrong right and left. The bad guys were winning. Literally half of the world was gone.

The more you map out stories like that, the more you realize that stories mostly consist of problems and tension.

I am so excited about this idea, that I had to bring in my friend Hasely to help me explain.

Okay, actually, I had to make up Hasely first. But he’s a character I’m having lots of fun with. Hasely became a film buff and self-certified film curator by hand picking the movies for the 3 for $5 bin at his family drug store.

By watching hits like Paul Blart 7 or Rude Gals (don’t mistake this for the more mainstream Mean Girls, he warns) he became a true expert in what makes a good story. Here’s how he explains the importance of tension.

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Stories take place in the zone of discomfort.

In storytelling circles (like, literal circles that outline the structure of most stories) the place where a plot builds is associated with death, disorder, or chaos. Dan Harmon calls it the unknown. Joseph Campbell calls it the journey towards the abyss. Others have called it the special world apart from the ordinary world.

Feel free to go down the rabbit hole, and things will confirm, great stories require diving towards danger, risk, and uncertainty.

And as Hasely says, As it goes in film, so it goes in LIFE!

Your best stories begin when you ditch comfort, take a risk, and head into the uncertain and unknown parts.

Philippe Lazaro