Stories occur when you take extraordinary measures to accomplish something important to you.

My favorite stories from real life always have a simple goal. Get rich. Build the perfect computer. Rendezvous with a woman across the country who I met once while doing magic tricks on the pier. I call a story's goal the MacGuffin.

Stories are about conflict. Conflict comes from stakes. Stakes cannot be real. Stakes must be important to you, but they needn't be important to anyone else. What matters is how important the MacGuffin is to you because the importance of a MacGuffin to you is what determines how far you will go to obtain your MacGuffin.

Stories aren't about MacGuffins. Stories are about the ridiculous things we do to obtain our MacGuffins.

I tend to do ridiculous things for one of three reasons.

The best stories come from combining all three.


I recently watched both seasons of the anime KonoSuba: God's Blessing on this Wonderful World!. There are a lot of things to like about KonoSuba but my favorite was is the character Megumin.

Megumin is an Arch Wizard. Wizards can learn lots of different spells. Megumin loves explosion magic. She loves explosion magic so much she refuses to invest skill points in anything else. Megumin's handicap[1] is she can cast no spells except Explosion.

The Explosion spell creates a large explosion. Megumin's explosion is way bigger than is necessary for almost all battles. Megumin's big Explosion is often less useful than a small explosion because her spell causes tremendous collateral damage whenever it is used. This is another handicap—but it's not an arbitrary one. It directly follows from Megumin's obnsession.

Megumin's Explosion takes so much energy, both magical and physical, that she cannot move for a few minutes after casting Explosion. This third handicap follows from Megumin's obsession too. One obsession causes three handicaps.

Obsessive people tend to be good characters because the obsession both creates handicaps and also motivates proaction.

My favorite plotline in KonoSuba begins when Megumin wants to practice her magic. She must venture far outside the city to avoid hurting anyone. She brings along the KonoSuba's protagonist to carry her home after she is magically exhausted.

They stumble across an abandoned castle. Every day, Megumin casts Explosion on the castle and the protagonist carries her back home.

It later turns out that a Demon Lord has moved into the castle. The Demon Lord demands Megumin stop casting Explosion on his castle or else he will kill our heroes. Our heroes agree to stop casting Explosion on the Demon Lord's castle.

The Demon Lord returns a week later. Megumin sheepishly admits she has been continuing to cast Explosion on the castle. After blasting such a hard target it's no longer satisfying to cast Explosion on empty fields.

Taking risks to indulge your weird quirks is how you break the status quo.

[1] I'm using the word "handicap" the way Brandon Sanderson does, to describe a weakness that cannot or should not be fixed. A code of honor or a child you must care for both constitute "handicaps". ↩