I had to have a tough conversation the other day. It involved sensitive topics, big fears of mine, and people I wasn't happy with. To my embarrassment and frustration, I ended up crying most of the way through the discussion and didn't handle it anywhere near the way I'd wanted to. The whole thing didn't go well.
Or at least that's how I saw it.
A few hours later, one of the people involved came to talk to me privately. She knows about my history of abuse, and she told me how impressed she was that I'd stood up for myself and clearly articulated what I wanted. "This was a victory today," she said.
Talk about a perspective shift.
This is an important consideration for fiction, too. Rarely do characters experience an untarnished victory or an irredeemable defeat. With almost every victory comes sacrifice: showing more of one's hand than desired, revealing a weakness, losing one or more prized allies or possessions, having to abandon a base or supplies, having to let a rival score a point, and so on. Similarly, defeats often conceal important benefits that characters gain in the process: learning key information, discovering a heretofore unknown personal strength, successfully beginning to use a new ability or skill, salvaging something important rather than losing everything, etc.
In short, we can't make things as simple as winning or losing for our characters. Victory should cost them something, and defeat should still contain at least a glimmer of hope. It's all part of the emotional roller coaster our stories should ride. Would you rather go on a ride with a single hill or with lots of them? We need to include ups and downs throughout the characters' journey. If things go well for too long, the audience gets bored. If the characters can't catch a break, the audience starts to think, "Well, this is depressing. Forget this."
Like most things in writing, it's a delicate balance. If you'd like some help finding the fulcrum for your story, click here to book a time for you and me to talk about it.
(Thanks to Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis for sharing their work on Unsplash.)