An ordinary life in crisis is what keeps me reading.


Crisis is like conflict on steroids.

We all know the old saw that conflict is what drives a good story.

I agree.

In the purest writing conflict floods each scene, and gets worse as the story moves forward.

But not all conflict rises to the level of crisis.

If a guy will be late for work if he pulls over long enough to text an apology to his wife for a harsh remark he made to her before he left the house, he is in the midst of conflict. If he has a pattern of running late and knows one more tardy will cost him his job, he is approaching a crisis.

I use that example because it refers to an inner crisis, the sort we all experience in our everyday lives.

A crisis can be a common one, ordinary if you please, yet draw a reader in for that very reason.

I have noticed the tendency on TV, in movies, and in many books for writers to rely on earth shattering cataclysms as the basic crisis in the story.

A bomb is ticking.  If it detonates, it will wipe out human life on earth.  A tsunami is racing toward the shore line as unsuspecting tourists play on the beach.  A serial killer is marking victims off his list one deadly time after another.

All right.  I get it.  Crisis is apocalypse.

I can’t argue that point.  Apocalypse is a big ol’ honkin’ crisis.

But I can only stand reading about an apocalypse every now and then.  Maybe once a year or so will do me.

On the other hand, give me a book that delves into the personal, ordinary, hum drum crises of life, and show me how the characters work their ways through them, and I won’t tire of it.  I will read those books all day every day.

Why?  Because I can relate to the characters’ plight, pull for them.

Few of us ever fight to save the world from destruction.

Each of us fights to save our little piece of it.

That’s what gives a crisis its punch and keeps us reading.

Stephen Woodfin is the author of The Compost Pile.


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