Dramatic Hyperinflation: Why It's A Problem, And How To Avoid It
Some of these points have been touched on in other articles before, but the problem is prevalent enough that it merits its own page. Whether it's a written story or a roleplay, dramatic hyperinflation can make any story feel boring and empty. So let's look at just what it is, and at some ways to keep it from happening in your work.
So what is dramatic hyperinflation?
In a hyperinflated economy, currency is so worthless that a bag of apples might cost millions to buy. How does this apply to a story? The apples are analogous to the audience's emotional response to any given scenario. The money is analogous to the dramatic elements the creator intends to use to provoke that response. Many people fall into a trap of creating ever-increasing sizes and amounts of drama to try to keep people engaged and interested. Left unchecked long enough, this will lead at least one of two forms of dramatic hyperinflation:
1. The dramatic or "shocking" elements become so severe or so commonplace that the audience has become completely desensitized to them, thus making it impossible to make them feel anything anymore. (Except boredom.)
2. The scale of what's at stake becomes so large that it can only be imagined in the abstract. There is little, if anything at stake that can be imagined concretely. As people don't really react emotionally over abstract stakes, they can't get emotionally invested in them.
Once it's reached this point, the creator loses all ability to emotionally engage people. Soon boredom, apathy, and even disgust at the story sets in, and off people go for greener pastures.
The key to preventing dramatic hyperinflation is to hold back on biggering and baddering your elements. It's not to say you can never go bigger and badder, but you need to do so in moderation. Let's look at some ways you can moderate yourself.
Ways To Avoid Dramatic Hyperinflation
Don't upgrade your characters more than you absolutely have to. If you upgrade your villains too much, you'll have to upgrade your heroes to keep up with them. If you upgrade your heroes too much, you'll have to upgrade your villains to keep them challenging. This sort of arms race will lead to dramatic hyperinflation if not checked. Before upgrading your characters, aim to have them use what they already have to the fullest, cleverest, most devious extents they possibly can. If you do upgrade them, it should be done only if it's going to open up new plot potential - and even then, the upgrades should be no bigger or more powerful than they need to be.
Avoid making the conflict/drama any bigger than it needs to be. Do you need to stop the actual Apocalypse, or could you just stop a town from being destroyed? Does stuff really have to be explicitly tied into a grand/cosmic purpose? Does anything else you're considering really need to happen on as massive a scale? If not, consider toning it down. This isn't to say that you can't have really big conflicts - but instead of using them all the time, save them for special occasions. Afterward, scale the conflicts back down to around what they were before. Make things smaller for awhile so the audience is prepared to appreciate another big conflict event later.
When planning your next big conflict event, ask yourself what you can do to make it different rather than simply bigger. This isn't to say it can't be bigger than the last big conflict event, but rather, making it bigger should not be your top priority. Instead, your main focus should be on how you're going to make a new experience for your audience.
Unless you're absolutely, positively ready to end the story once and for all, don't throw in literal, actual Ultimate Things. Once you've used your Ultimate Thing, then what? Anything less than ultimate is going to seem underwhelming by comparison, and if you come up with something bigger and stronger than it, then it wasn't so ultimate, now was it? The very best Ultimate Things, whether good or evil, exist only as ideals or dreams, or as things eternally beyond the experience of the characters.
Before throwing anything big or extreme out there, ask yourself if you're potentially shooting yourself in the foot with it somehow. Will you be able to outdo it in the future if you really need to? Will you be able to outdo it without being totally ridiculous in some way? Or is it likely to pull you into an endless cycle of needing to constantly throw bigger, more excessive elements into your work? Or will it make something intended to be a big, major deal earlier seem petty or trivial by comparison?
Remember that the best tension comes from what's up close and personal, not what's distant and impersonal. A gigantic monster stomping a major city of full of faceless millions? That might make an interesting visual, but there's little to pull on people's emotions. A smaller monster stomping a small town as a handful of characters we've come to know personally watch their homes and businesses get destroyed? Now we're talking.
Set rules and limitations from the start. Making it difficult or even impossible to exceed certain limitations and boundaries can make it easier to keep the scale and scope of your drama in check. See Setting Rules & Limitations In Your World: Why & How You Need To Do This for more.
Contrast, contrast, contrast! The more unusual something is, the more it'll stick out and grab your audience's attention and/or pull at their emotions. See On Buildup, Payoff, & Contrast for more information.
Also, you might be interested in:
Keeping Magic From Taking Over Your Story
Basic Tips To Create Better Characters With Tragic & Traumatic Backstories
Tips For Writing Dark Stories, Settings, & Characters
Tips & Ideas To Make Better & More Interesting Powers
Pointlessly Edgy Tropes To Reconsider Using