Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing. —Oscar Wilde

The one and only time my husband and I played Monopoly, I landed on one of his housed/hoteled properties while I was short on cash. He offered me a terrible deal—give him all of my money plus one of my utilities. I hesitated. “This deal is only good for thirty seconds,” he announced. “After that, the deal gets worse.” 

Annoying but quotable.

“The deal gets worse,” became our catchphrase anytime something bad happened that was then compounded by something even worse. We say it about ourselves and we say it about others.

“The deal gets worse,” began to appear everywhere.

Eventually, I realized that “the deal gets worse” is even a foundational tenet of storytelling. We create a character who has a problem. And then things get worse. And worse. And worse...until they are so bad that the character has to do the one thing they desperately don’t want to do (much like handing over Waterworks) to turn it around.

The deal also, of course, can get better. When our character makes friends or discovers allies, when they have a bit of luck, or when their determination is finally paying off, then things get better. Is it any wonder, though, that those moments are often (in moviemaking, anyway) passed over with a montage? Thirty seconds of dancing in the rain with your beloved, having a picnic, and visiting the Eiffel Tower—and sixty minutes of arguments and misunderstanding and spilling salsa on yourself in a restaurant.

I know writers often struggle with plots. One of the most helpful questions we can ask ourselves is, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen to my character now?”

The deal gets worse is one of my best pieces of plot advice.