March 22, 2012

Adrenaline Rush

by Dani Pettrey

I am fascinated by adventurous people. I’ve never been able to peg exactly why, until now. I spent some time this weekend pondering why I admire people who live by the motto:

 “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention 
of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. 
But rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, 
totally worn out and loudly proclaiming . . . 
WOW, what a ride!” –Mark Frost

This fascination with adventure also extends to the novels I write. My Alaskan Courage series is about a family that pursues adventure for a living. It’s one way my passion for adventure and my passion for writing combine, but I discovered another connection between the two. has the following definitions for adventure:
1.       An exciting or unusual experience
2.       Participating in an exciting undertaking
3.       Hazardous action of uncertain outcome

It’s definition number 3 that really grabs me. Hazardous is scary enough, but combine it with uncertain outcome, and look out. The tips of your toes are hanging over the cliff and you’re not sure if you should leap or retreat—the pivotal moment of decision. It gets your blood pumping, narrows your focus onto what is important and blocks out everything else. All you can hear is the pounding of your heart. The choice is before you—leap or retreat?

Oddly enough, this is something every protagonist faces. Storytellers call it the black moment. It may not appear as drastic as diving off a cliff into the water below, but it’s a decision that will change the course of our protagonist’s life; a decision that will irrevocably change our protagonist. The choice is before him. Will he decide the cost is too steep and retreat, or will he bravely take the plunge?

Bringing our characters to this moment takes work. We’ve got to build the momentum and allow the events and story threads to converge naturally until our protagonist is forced to chose—plunge or retreat. It won’t be easy, it’ll mean suffering and setbacks for our character, but isn’t that what makes a story great?

Without a black moment to overcome, without a choice that equals sacrifice and risk, our story loses heart and our character growth. It’s hard to become a hero without anything to overcome. Every story is an adventure, and what is adventure without risk, or a hero without opposition?

A jungle setting isn’t necessary for a story to be an adventure. It can take place in an office building or cul-de-sac. What makes a story an adventure is the thrill of watching our protagonist face the unknown, take action despite the risk, and become a better person because of it.

Action in spite of risk. It’s the stuff stories and heroes are made of, and it’s what keeps me turning pages long into the night. So set your character on a cliff and let him take the plunge. Watching what happens is half the adventure.  

Dani Pettrey is a wife, homeschooling mom, and author. She feels blessed to write inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things she loves--the thrill of adventure, nail biting suspense, the deepening of her characters' faith, and plenty of romance. She and her husband reside in Maryland with their two teenage daughters. Visit her website at

You can connect with Dani on her blog, Twitter or Facebook.

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