P.W. Creighton

It's The Unanswered Questions That Haunt Us...

Assigning Stressors

As the narrative roller-coaster unfolds it is not simply the suspense and excitement that drives the piece forward but the tension, the taut emotions that consume both characters and audience


Every piece begins with anticipation, presumptions about events and serves to draw an emotional connection between the audience and the ride. It is that emotional connection that a creator can draw upon to influence perceptions and elevate their work beyond the initial hook.

An audience's connection begins with anticipation as the first conflict is assigned to the character. This is the prominent conflict that is designed to both introduce the audience to the characters and test the characters. Psychology describes this conflict as a stressor and the emotion associated with an unresolved stressor is the foundation of every narrative, Tension. Through the introduction of this unresolved stressor the narrative is compelled forward and providing the connection has been initially been established the audience will be driven to find a resolution for the stressor based upon the General Adaptation Syndrome model.

In the General Adaptation Syndrome model physiologists describe stress as taking place in the three phases of Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion. In the alarm phase the body will react to initial stressor with adrenaline and commonly the 'fight or flight response.' The Resistance phase takes place under a sustained tension and represents how the individual will either cope or remove the stressor. As the final phase of the GAS model exhaustion takes hold on the subject and the body's systems are compromised. Abstracting this concept to the characters in a story, these stressors can not only develop new conflicts but also represent additional depth to the characters. As the tension continues to mount across time for the characters it can have a profound impact on their behavior.

A story is a taut ride, a thrilling roller-coaster that takes unexpected turns and drops to keep the audience enraptured. The suspense is born of anxiety, a tension that is drawn in such a manner as to keep both the characters and audience moving through the story. Applying different stressors can keep tension high, keep the audience engaged, but as with any stressor, if there is no relief exhaustion can set in and break the piece.

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