Friday, February 19, 2016

False Agreements and Your Narrator's Epiphany



A blog reader from New England sent a great question, which ties into a discussion happening in one of my online classes right now, about the growth of a character in memoir and fiction.  How that character always starts their story with a false agreement.  How that agreement changes until the character realizes what's true.

The false agreement also happens in nonfiction.  We pick up a book to get new insights, to move from limited knowledge into wider understanding. 

So, imagine what false agreement your story starts with.  What is the status quo?  What does everybody put up with, to get along? 



Some examples of false agreements from different books I've read lately:
1.  If I'm good enough, nothing bad will happen.
2.  If I protect my sister, she won't be abused.
3.  If I go there in person, I can find the truth.
4.  If I keep silent, nobody will get hurt.

There are hundreds of possibilities, and yours will be unique.  The "hook" of your story starts from this false agreement.  Because something will happen to immediately cast doubt over this false agreement, right?  That's what launches your story.

Once you have your false agreement sketched out (spend 15-20 minutes freewriting on what it could be), your next step is to chart how that agreement will get busted up.

Along the way, there are small and large epiphanies:  the character realizes the agreement may not be all it's cracked up to be (first small epiphany, or turning point); the character decides not to take this #%$$ anymore (second epiphany) and reinvents herself or gets new help or new clues.  Usually, near the end of the story, the smaller epiphanies result in a major one.  Where the character is different, fundamentally.  And makes changes that really show how far she or he has come since the start of the story.

If you're curious about structure, as you probably are if you're reading this blog, you'll even sacrifice some of your backstory or timeline to shape these epiphanies so they build upon each other and create a climax at the end.

Smaller epiphanies lead to the larger ones, which are the moments of transformation in your story.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
1.  List the epiphanies in your story as you know them now.
2.  Place them in sequence--do they build towards a final moment of transformation?