Stress is Good—For a Story

When bad things happen to good people, we always seem to ask why. Which is the beginning of every great story.

For writers, the best advice is to continually say “no” to your characters. They are trying to get home for the holidays, like Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. No. They need to defeat the evil Empire before it enslaves the galaxy, like the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars. No. They need to stop the giant meteor from colliding with earth and extinguishing life as we know it, like Bruce Willis in Armageddon. NO!

When a character gets that first NO at the beginning of a story, whether in a book or movie, it becomes the catalyst for everything that follows. If Steve Martin had caught that first taxi in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, if he hadn’t tripped in his foot race with Kevin Bacon, if he hadn’t haggled with the lawyer, if John Candy hadn’t stolen the cab, if the weather hadn’t been bad, if he hadn’t been robbed… No, no, no, no, NO!

And we laughed. Sure, we felt terrible for him. We felt bad for his wife and children. We even felt awful for John Candy and the string of others he met along the way. We’ve all been told no. It’s a natural instinct that when we see someone else get the same no as we’ve experienced, we automatically cheer for them to succeed.

It causes stress. It causes conflict. It causes pain. And suspense. And drama. And laughter. That’s what good movies and all great stories are. When the characters we love finally overcome all the obstacles and get home, or defeat the Empire, or save the world, we are crying tears of joy, applauding their triumph. Because by that point, we’ve struggled along with them and their success is now ours, too.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.