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Adversity

June 24th, 2010 No comments

You hear it all the time: ‘adversity builds character.’ And it’s true: place someone in a situation of ‘misfortune’ or ‘continued difficulty,’ as the dictionary defines adversity, and you’ll see some real character emerge. Perhaps not always the kind of character you were expecting… but that’s the nature of man – and the formative power of adversity. Diamonds are formed under pressure, as the old saying goes… but, then again, so are earthquakes.

But adversity can be inspirational. It can motivate someone to react, refine and adapt to deal with tough circumstances. For some, it brings writing inspiration, turning a negative into a positive – literally.

In my life and in my work, I have encountered adversity and I have dealt with others who have done the same. None of us are exempt from misfortune, but it shows a certain resolve to ‘turn that frown upside down’ or ‘make lemonade from life’s lemons.’ In terms of writing, the adversity characters experience in a story or screenplay is called conflict; it is the job of the writer to frame this conflict in a way that allows the reader to empathize with the character’s adversity – and hopefully resolve it in a way that satisfies the reader while ringing true for the character. As simple as that sounds, it really is difficult to construct (and conclude) a screenplay without running into some ‘writer’s adversity’ along the way…

As a story analyst and reader, I have dealt with a number of screenplays and manuscripts that were inspired by their authors’ own struggles with adversity, from substance abuse to physical disability, chronic illness or psychological problems. Each author wrote from the heart, and their sincerity was always evident. The quality of these works varied wildly, from novice screenwriters making simple mistakes with plot, story, or pacing to experienced, established authors whose tales evoked a level of poignancy rarely felt. And occasionally there were surprises, like the first-time writer who chronicled his often harrowing, always painful treatment for deadly Hepatitis-C; his manuscript made his ordeal come alive for the reader, turning a conventional medical tale into an affecting, scary and honest memoir.

We experience adversity in our lives in the same way that characters in a screenplay deal with conflict. It is how we respond to our adversity that is most important: if you see every challenge as an opportunity to learn, create and grow, then maybe some adversity isn’t all that bad!