One of my sisters and I had a “misunderstanding” last week. It got a little emotional. OK, it quickly got a lot emotional. I hung up and despair rose up within me like a monster. Sharpening its claws and licking its lips, it prepared to eat me.

I called a friend and asked for prayer. After I told her what was going on, she prayed for me. (I am so thankful.) Then I took a walk. Breathing in the fresh air and feeling the warm sun on my face, I noticed my feelings of hopelessness were lifting. The accusations and rules from childhood, though they didn’t stop talking, did stop yelling. God was helping me. I knew it.

Back at home I told my husband the gist of what had happened. As I talked, I realized there was a lot of  “drama” in my conversation with my sister. Family stuff has often been that way, but did it have to be?

My husband didn’t think so; he cut to the bottom line. “You don’t need all the things you’re asking her for. What’s the one thing you need? Can she do that?” he asked.

It was a light bulb moment. I called my sister, getting her voice mail. I asked for the one thing I needed.

Later she called me back.

“I’m so sorry,” I said rushing into the conversation. “I handled that badly.’

“Me, too,” she murmured.

“You know,” I said, “all this emotional stuff makes great theater, but it’s not so good in real life.”

She laughed.

We worked out our differences. It was good. It was a lesson.

But God wasn’t done. During the week that followed I got more opportunities to think about the lesson. An email from National Center for Biblical Parenting (They send parenting tips.) suggested telling your child to take a break from a trying situation and come back to it when he/she has calmed down a little. The email reminded me that this organization while respecting emotions also counsels parents to not let emotions rule them or their children. On another day while surfing TV, I chanced on a show where everyone got very upset over something that in reality could have been resolved easily. Instead the characters intensified the situation with bigger and bigger displays of temper, frustration and old arguments. I recognized the scene for what it was–a gimmick to keep me tuned in.

Writing instructors will often tell writers when you’re plotting a story, you need to keep ratcheting up the intensity–the character’s situation needs to become increasingly more uncomfortable for him, more and more hopeless. Readers will keep reading to see if the character can endure the unending (that is, until the last page) fires of life.

But is this the only way to keep a reader engaged? And is it a good way, particularly when it comes to children and teens? Is media teaching, training really, children and young adults to be adrenaline junkies?

As I mulled this over, I thought about To Kill a Mockingbird. I read this book twice as a teen and I loved it. I loved the language, the humor, the characters, and I realized this past week that I loved the rhythm of the plot. Harper Lee created exciting, can’t-wait-to-read-what-happens-next moments, but she often followed them with moments of explanation and understanding. These “sabbaths” tucked into the story endeared the book to me. The “rest” in these moments helped me brave and accept the harsher truths of other parts of the story.

Writers today are often criticized for plotting this way. But I’m thinking maybe we writers, for the good of the kids, should just ignore the criticisms.


Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer, and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Two of her published works for children are Marty’s Monster and Jessica Jacobs Did What?  For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.