In the midst of the messy middle of story there’s the dynamic of positive and negative charges. Robert McKee, author of the classic screenwriting text Story, writes about this extensively. And here’s the gist: In story something bad happens (-) and then something good (+). But the next bad thing that happens must be worse (- -) and then something doubly good needs to happen (++). So as our hero moves closer to the desired goal the stakes increase and the intensity builds.
While our own stories may not feel that systematically plotted—the reality is when we are moving toward beautiful and important things resistance comes. And it often intensifies the closer we get.
We can feel lost in those double – – charges. It sucks. And…it’s utterly normal. Yet, when it happens to us it seems unlike any other. And wow! Do I know…
When I was working on the Startup Cuba documentary series I found myself more stuck and despairing in a story than I ever had been. During that time a dear friend reassured me I was simply in the messy middle and that I had always found my way out of stories before and I would this time. It was so hard to believe him and even harder to believe in myself. But I determined to rally and tag on to his belief.
Then the next shoot—the final shoot—was a disaster. That sense of feeling lost got worse. I failed. So, this was going to be the time I didn’t make it through. The – – – – – charges were off the charts.
Right before we were leaving to the airport then something clicked for me. I could see the path out. But as I said, this was our final shoot.
Yet, grace upon grace–positive charge doubled–my business partner kindly agreed to hop back on the plane a few days later and I was given 48 hours to try to right the whole series. I threw in my own funds and ended up shooting most of it myself. But that wasn’t what did it…there was a divine choreography that I can’t take credit for. It was as if someone had gone before us and lined the streets with people who could give us the candid interviews I knew we were lacking. And I was finally able to direct in a style the project desperately needed. The story was rescued.
The gift of that trip was magnified by the disastrous one before.
And so it is with all our stories. If we can trust there are graces in the negatives then we can be better poised to savor the positives that come our way.
All this reminds me of an idea I’ve carried in my heart for many years thanks to Simone Weil. Essentially she says:
There are two things that pierce the soul…one is beauty and the other is affliction…and if we are to truly live we must be pierced by both.
We must live with the positive and negative charges of life.
What are yours at the moment?
Whatever they are may you find grace in the negatives and gratitude in the positives today.