STORY ESSENTIALS #4: Opportunity/Crisis/Tipping Point

This series reveals what I consider to be the ESSENTIAL components of any great story. These critical elements will all be familiar to you if you’ve followed my writing, teaching or coaching for any length of time. But my goal is not to be original; it’s to ensure you have a firm foundation on which to build an emotionally powerful and persuasive story. These are the principles you must master if you want to impact people’s lives – and increase your revenue, whether you’re creating a film, TV episode, novel, non-fiction or instructional book, speech, webinar, blog or sales pitch.

Great stories are driven by desire. The hero wants something, and the pursuit of that goal keeps readers and audiences emotionally invested in its outcome. If your hero has no specific goal, your story is static. If he or she wants something but takes no action to achieve it, your hero is passive. Either way, the emotional impact of your story will dissipate and die.

But whatever the hero’s desire, something must happen to force your hero to formulate that goal, and begin their quest for it.

In our own lives, when something “good” happens to us (money, a new job, finding true love) we regard it as an OPPORTUNITY. But then we’re faced with a CRISIS:

“What shall I do with this money? Invest it? Spend it? Hide it away?”  

“How do I make a success of this new job? What’s expected of me? Do I need to work harder, learn more, impress my bosses?”

“Oh, joy! I think I’m in love!! Oh, shit! I think I’m in love!!”

If we encounter something negative, we’re more likely to see that as a crisis. But in attempting to overcome any problem, we are given the opportunity to change, grow and connect with others, and to find courage and fulfillment we haven’t experienced before.

Whether you call it an opportunity or a crisis – in my books and presentations I use them interchangeably – this new event becomes a tipping point that forces the hero of your story to take action.

You must let your followers experience this moment themselves.

You must include it in your story, so your readers and audiences can recognize, “Okay, NOW we’re on our way to something exciting.”

Often I encounter autobiographical storytellers who say, “Well there was no single moment that made me take action. I’d always wanted to (get in shape/change my career/raise chickens/take up shuffleboard), and I finally decided it was time.”

And my response is always, “If you weren’t going after your desire on Tuesday, but you were going after it on Thursday, then something must have happened on Wednesday.”

This might have been a small event, like being reminded of something inspiring your mother once told you. Or it might have been yet another critical comment from a spouse or co-worker that was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or maybe, for the umpteenth time, it was getting winded just by climbing some stairs. But whatever the event, and however many times you’d tolerated it before, this was the crisis, that moved you to action.

In movies and television, these turning points are often more obvious and dramatic – the discovery of a body, an alien invasion, a “love-at-first-sight” encounter. But whatever it is, don’t skip over it, and don’t begin your story with your hero already pursuing the outcome that defines your story.

Your readers and audiences don’t just want to see the finish line of your hero’s race; they want to hear the starting gun.

– Michael Hauge