The Q Factor

As I mentioned in a previous post about NaNoWriMo, the Q factor is a semi-surprise element that the main character of a story can use to solve a problem or escape a trap, especially in the final act of the story.

The term comes from James Bond movies where the character known as Q gives James some techie gifts early in the story, like a car that turns into a submarine, and then much later James uses those toys to his advantage. Even though these gifts were introduced earlier, the audience won’t likely consider them cheats because we knew James had them in his possession, but we probably forget about them by the time they’re used.

Lots of stories use this technique, and once you’re aware of it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. So often you’ll find the hero pulling out something in Act 3 that was introduced in Act 1 and maybe briefly mentioned in Act 2.

Just as the hero of a story may have a Q factor, you can also create one for yourself. Then when you find yourself in the clutches of a Bond villain (or in some other kind of trouble), you can pull out your Q factor and use it to create a quick turnaround.

Here are some examples of Q factors that you can develop:

  • Money – If you have plenty of money (like savings), you can spend your way out of a wide variety of problems.
  • A resourceful friend – Phone a friend who’s really good at devising creative solutions to difficult problems.
  • A coach – Enlist the help of someone who’s solved similar problems.
  • Reference experiences – Remind yourself that you’ve dealt with tougher situations before and that you can handle this one.
  • Useful reframes – How is this a gift in disguise? What’s the subjective reality perspective on this?
  • Stamina – Do you have the energy reserves to do what it takes to overcome this?
  • Creative skills – Use that fancy brain to think your way out of this.
  • Patience – Out-endure the problem.
  • Your favorite song – Pump up your motivation and enthusiasm with your personal “Eye of the Tiger.”
  • Self-Discipline – When the going gets tough, you’re tougher.
  • Courage – Eat fear for breakfast.
  • A committed relationship – Lean on the support when you need it, and be supportive when your partner needs you.

Let your Q factor be there for emergencies, but don’t abuse it. If your Q factor is to pull an all-nighter to catch up because you’ve been chronically procrastinating, fix your P factor instead.

Knowing that you have a solid Q factor (or ten) in your back pocket is confidence-building. You may hope you won’t need to use it every time, but it’s good to know that you have some extra resources in reserve, just in case.

The more Q factors you develop and the more broadly you can apply them, the more you create a web of resilience to bounce back from setbacks or avoid them entirely.

You don’t necessarily need a lot of Q factors. One very flexible one will do in a pinch. But it’s still wise to develop more over time because some Q factors have a limited lifespan.

One thing I love about being in my 40s is that I have more and better Q factors than I did in my 20s. When I was younger I sometimes leaned on sucky Q factors like pulling all-nighters, or I made desperation Hail Mary plays and hoped to get lucky. I’ve long since retired the all-nighter and Hail Mary Q factors, and I’m happy to never use them again.

These days my favorite Q factors are mostly simple reframes. I look at problems from different angles before I assign meaning to them, and I favor angles that empower me to grow. When a new problem hits me, I look for the hidden invitation in the problem.

The COVID situation is one example. Instead of being a curse or a setback, my Q factor says this is a great time to write a novel. So it’s not a problem; it’s an invitation.

That’s a nice way to think about Q factors in general. A good Q factor transforms problems into solutions, invitations, or interesting growth challenges. So if you think about it, you could regard any decent Q factor as a type of reframe.