The sentence, as it now stands, is: "The bizarre events and offbeat personalities of an acid-fueled summer push two high school lifeguards in opposite directions." The part in italics is the part I want to replace. I need something that denotes the idea that the same set of events and circumstances was experienced by 2 people but that it had very different effects on each of their lives.

The best thing I know of to explain the connotation I'm trying to get at is the phrase: "you can either get bitter or you can get better". It communicates the same sort of idea (i.e. that adversity can make a person better or bitter).

Here are some of my rejected ideas to help clarify/inspire:

  • "pushes two high school lifeguards to the doorstep of two very different doors"
  • "drives a heavy wedge between two high school lifeguards"
  • "causes two high school lifeguards to grow apart"
  • "sew the lives of two lifeguards into very different tapestries"
  • "push two high school lifeguards to the edge of tw very different cliffs"
  • "push two high school lifeguards to the opposite poles of life's ..."
  • "provide two high school lifeguards with two very different perspectives on life"
  • "send two high school lifeguards down tw very different roads"

The reason I rejected all these is I feel they do not connote the "bitter or better" qoute idea about going through the same turbulence and changing in opposite ways. Basically one lifeguard gets bitter and one gets better. That is, one guard sees and experiences the summer events one way while the other frames them and is changed by them in a completely different way (i.e. gains a completely different/opposite perspective and new being). I don't quite feel like anything I've written connotes this, if I am mistaken let me know. If not, I would appreciate suggestions of any known idioms or phrases similar to "bitter or better" or any other made up expressions or wordings you feel would communicate this idea. Thanks in advance.

  • 2
    I like it the way it is. It lets the reader anticipate the story to come without providing a conclusion. It creates suspense. It doesn’t need to be gummed up with images of doors or cliffs.
    – Xanne
    May 24, 2022 at 1:21
  • 1
    But I'd take out the offbeat personalities. If you need offbeat personalities in the blurb, work it in in some other way. May 24, 2022 at 2:10
  • It was a crossroads / a make-or-break event. May 24, 2022 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


With respect, you are making heavy weather of something that is simple in principle. The idea you wish to convey is that one event set the two lifeguards on different courses. It's a turning point in a narrative, assuming this relates to fiction, but it is not a complicated conceit. It doesn't need to be expressed in complex fashion, therefore.

Forget the 'bitter or better' business and stick with the initial version: "The bizarre events and offbeat personalities of an acid-fueled summer push two high school lifeguards in opposite directions."

It's fine. It says exactly what you want to say in clear and concise fashion. If you really want to make a point about one lifeguard's life improving and the other's going wrong, a Heaven and Hell dichotomy if you will, then say that in the next sentence. The meaning will carry through.

  • Hello, Ditzy. OP asks for an idiom or other fixed phrase. While your advice may well be ... probably is ... very sound, it does not fulfil the requirements of an 'answer' on ELU. Writing advice is off-topic; there is a Writing.SE site where they welcome it. May 24, 2022 at 14:50

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