Day 18 of 40 Days of Story: What are the negative and positives charges of your story?

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.



Day 16 of 40 Days of Story: What’s got you laughing today?

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” — Mark Twain

Yesterday I got all heady about two ways conflict can serve our stories. But there’s a third…and it’s much more fun. Conflict/challenges/obstacles can also serve as great fodder for laughter.


Laughter can help us move through conflict more robustly…essentially make us conflict-resilient. Or as my good friend Tabitha says, “Laughter is the lubricant to life.” It helps us move through life’s frictions.


I have found laughter to be all the more vital during tough seasons. During that year-and-a-half of interviewing sex-trafficking survivors I lived on a steady diet of sit-coms and even went about writing a romantic comedy screenplay…simply as cheap therapy.


Perhaps even better than laughing at the screen is being able to laugh at yourself. And I’ll tell, I have an uncanny ability to generate reasons to laugh at myself…from my sketchy motor skills, to my less than graceful attempts at foreign languages, to my combative relationship with rhythm on the dance floor…I bring the fodder!


But here’s the deal: If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re wasting prime ways to redeem conflict.


Humor has always been a critical role in stories…even in very serious dramas. Laughter serves as a release valve as the conflict intensifies. It enables us to catch our breaths…because we all know more conflict is on it’s way.


So what has you laughing today?


For me, it was laughing hard with my charming nephew who cracks me up. It did my heart good. And you?


Day 15 of 40 Days of Story: Who’s the real you + how conflict can reveal it.

This week we explored conflict–in all of it’s glory. It drives the story in films, books, plays and it plays a powerful role in our own stories.


If you’re like me, you often wish conflict would take a day off and let joy (or success, ease or love) hog the spotlight for a while. However, conflict is rarely a slacker when it comes to good stories. And if we let it, conflict can serve us well.


The famous screenwriter guru, Robert McKee, talks about conflict having two majors purposes:

  1. It reveals the true character vs characterization of the hero. Essentially when the hero faces challenges, we get to see what is the hero’s true self versus false self. Or said this way: how does the hero like to think of himself/herself and how is he/she really like under pressure.
  2. It shows how much our hero desires whatever he/she is pursuing. When the challenges stack up, how much is our hero willing to fight for the goal, chase the quest?


As much as I’m not a natural fan of conflict, it has its gifts. It–like few other things–can help reveal what I am truly like versus the ideal self I’d like to think I am. And when I pay attention to that gap…well, that’s this incredible invitation to grow more into my true design.


Conflict can also show much how much I really desire something…it puts my WHY to test. Currently, as a Startup Founder, I am in the throes of what is literally termed the “Trough of Sorrow.” Seriously this season of moving forward in the midst of obstacle after obstacle with our new company has an official title entailing “sorrow.” Daily I am faced with: How much do I want this?  How long can I endure the Trough of Sorrow?

Source: Paul Graham via


Yet, if I let conflict do it’s good work in me there’s the hope of a The Promised Land…and more.


And that’s the hope for all of us…if we create the space for conflict to serve its purpose it will help us become more of who we’re designed to be and help us see how much we desire our dreams.


I’d love to hear how conflict is serving you in this season!



Day 14 of 40 Days of Story: Choose your conflict wisely. What’s the best conflict you chose this week?

There’s nothing like Reality TV to teach you about conflict!


My years as a docu-reality producer did just that.  I had the fortune of not having to produce like some in reality TV but the talent I worked with who had been on other shows had some amazing (aka awful) stories of how conflict got manufactured and manipulated.


One woman told me her back got burned from night and day having to wear a wireless mic duck-taped to it. Every word she spoke for weeks was “owned” by the show. Another talent said she had to take a medical exam right before the show and was told (falsely) she had a STD. She was a total wreck during the filming.


While I never had to generate conflict like that I had my own unwieldy lessons.


The first TV show I produced I trekked from Mozambique to Morocco interviewing African leaders on what the West could learn from them. I so desired to celebrate Africa’s culture, I diminished conflict. As I’ve mentioned, my natural bent is to avoid conflict…or more accurately it is to diffuse and convert it to harmony. Well, that showed up in my producing. Yike!  The stories ended up being interesting but not as emotionally moving as they could have been.


For my next TV series I was told I needed to cast rising celebrities and Reality TV talent. I knew I had to think strategically about conflict. I couldn’t avoid it, nor did I want to exploit it.


I decided to take these rising celebrities on meaningful but stretching trips to Latin America as they chased their dreams and encountered social justice issues. We worked with incredible musicians in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and amazing students in an infamous slum in Haiti and gifted dancers in a tiny village in the Amazon.


This became a workable model—the pursuit of dreams and the power of being out of your comfort zone teamed with a bigger perspective and sense of contribution. It was a model I loved…until I had to actually do it myself (crazy story, but I ended up as talent on my own show).  It was hard…but ultimately helpful. I was learning how to use conflict in story as I was figuring it out in my own life.


The next series I produced had intense conflict embedded in it. I produced a series on sex-trafficking, interviewing survivors throughout the US and Southeast Asia. I discovered my strength. I could enter into conflict with a confidence and certainty when it came to injustice. My avoidance turned to Bring it on!


Yet not everything has that black-and-white, just-or-unjust dynamic. How do you choose conflict wisely in the midst of the messiness of everyday realities and complexities of relationships?


I still struggle with that. This week I tried to choose good conflict in the context of a difficult family situation. I was awkward…and ultimately unhelpful. My own hurt and anger hampered my attempt to engage in good conflict.


However, like most great stories in the making there are second chances…upon second chances. When I re-engaged I discovered another model for conflict. It’s one I wish I would have started with and almost the exact opposite of my first attempt:


  1. I owned what I needed and desired out of the conversation.
  2. I chose vulnerability over defensiveness.
  3. I discovered more of my “Why” to engage that good conflict—I desired deeper relationship.
  4. I invited (versus obligated) the others to fight for wholeness.


So…what’s the best conflict you chose this week?


And bonus question: I’m curious what’s a model for conflict you’ve come to appreciate?


I look forward to hearing!

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