Friday, June 9, 2023

It's All Too Much! (Risk, That Is): Recognizing and Balancing the Risk Quotient in Your Writing (and Your Life)

Long ago, I wrote a book called How to Master Change in Your Life, which is, as you probably guessed, about how different people view and react to change of all kinds. One of the more fascinating parts of my research for that book was what I began to call the risk quotient of each person. Including myself.

Evidently, there can be a vast difference between how we deal with external risk (driving across Europe alone) and internal risk (telling a friend that we can’t be friends anymore).

Since the book was published, I’ve kept that fascination with risk. I use it to weigh my characters’ effectiveness in a story. I evaluate how much external risk I’ve put in the plot—how many dramatic moments, how intense or low-key they are. I’ve studied my own tendencies towards different kinds of risk. Is it a male-female thing? Is it influenced by location? Or class or education or race?

When I taught writing, I sometimes asked students about their tendencies to allow risk into their stories. I noticed a real difference in the answers when I taught, say, in Minnesota versus New York.

I began wondering if the place we live reflect or instructs our tendency to bring risk into our creative work. Does a mountainous, storm-ridden region make a writer more able to write terrifically intense scenes with a lot of external tension? Does the flatland do the opposite, perhaps bringing out more internal risk in characters or narrator?