Greasing the skids vs. Twisting the screws

These are terms I use in my writing for two types of narrative tricks:

  1. Greasing the skids. Making a difficult decision or situation easier for the characters. As I just posted, you can see this in Reds (the Bruce Willis vehicle) (see below).

  2. Twisting the screws. Making a difficult situation or decision even more difficult for the characters. The best example I can think of was in Das Boot, when the sub has to submerge past its safe operating level to avoid British destroyers. It goes deeper and deeper, the pressure gauge goes far into the red, and the sit silently at the bottom as the pressure causes the bolts to fail and fly across the sub like bullets. And then, depth charges start exploding. . …

It can even be used in comedy: Harold Lloyd as he climbs on the clock in Safety Last

I’m sure TVTropes has another name for these, but I don’t want to bother looking it up. In general, Greasing the Skids is a bad idea (though there are exceptions), while Twisting the Screws makes for better writing.

What examples of these can you come up with?


Morgan Freeman has inoperable cancer. Thus when it’s necessary that someone sacrifice himself, he’s the obvious candidate. Since the film is a lighthearted action thriller, this probably works --he can die without everyone getting torn up about it.

Well, it is a little different than your example, but for an example of Greasing the Skids, how about the novel Scaramouche? The main character has to decide between supporting the current regime or the radical revolutionaries in pre-Revolution France. His decision is helped along when the Bad Guy, who supports/benefits from the current situation, murders his best friend and prepares to marry his girl-friend.