Fight, flight, freeze, fawn: How does your hero react to pressure?

conflict story structure Mar 01, 2023

There’s a key question that can make or break your storytelling, and it’s this:

How does your main character react to pressure?

  • Do they fight back?
  • Do they run away?
  • Do they freeze up like a deer in the headlights?
  • Do they abandon their goals completely and try to placate (or even join) the enemy?

These four strategies are psychological patterns that describe how humans react to stress, pressure, or trauma.

You may have heard them described as fight, flight, freeze, and fawn.

And how is this relevant to writing fiction, you ask?

It’s story structure, my friends! A story depicts a central character with important, high stakes goal who encounters obstacles along the way. The struggle to achieve the goal despite opposition creates a journey of meaningful transformation.

Or, to put it simply:

How your main character reacts to pressure is literally the plot of your book.

For that reason alone, this subject is worth investigating, don’t you think?

Here’s another reason:

Writing passive heroes and conflict-deficient scenes is the single most common error made by writers who are still struggling with story structure.

I coach writers about htis issue All The Time, and what I’ve learned is that the resistance to changing this runs deep. In this livestream I take on the topic of humans under pressure—and that includes fictional humans, too!

If you struggle to keep your hero active, scene after scene, I think you’ll find this discussion especially valuable. 

Good writing is my jam! Put me on the mailing list, please.


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