Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 6 comments
Why do stories that turn on a simple epiphany bother us so much when we encounter them in fiction? Probably because they feel so fictional. In real life, insights are a lot easier to come by than true change. Look at the vast self-help section in your local bookstore and you'll see what I mean. Gurus everywhere offer tests and tools to help identify our every weakness.

But changing those things? Ah, now there's the rub.

In Think Like a Shrink, Emanuel Rosen's primer on 100 basic principles driving human personality, he discusses the limits of insight. Therapeutic relationships, whether with a professional counselor or an insightful friend, will only get you so far, he says. Why? Those insights are just a theory--a theory one is prone to resist--until some experience makes it real.

In other words, your story will fall flat if you stop at the point of realization for your character. She needs the further step of a new experience to test and perfect what she's learned. This new experience might happen during the climax or the denouement. But it must happen.

photo: hotblack, morguefile.com
When you show your character acting on an insight, behaving in a new way, relating differently, you do more than just prove change. You act on your readers' imaginations in a way that helps them to make a similar leap. This is where fiction has a role to play in being a healing force in society.

So what will that new experience look like? That depends entirely on the character's flaw and how he or she is wired. A bold character should have a bolder healing experience than a quiet character does. Consider Ebenezer Scrooge's bodacious acts of generosity at the end of A Christmas Carol versus Pip's quiet reunion with Estella in Great Expectations.

A particularly stubborn character won't likely do a 180, but will take an incremental step toward the new pattern of behavior. Yet that small gesture--a sympathetic nod, a few coins in a tip jar, a mumbled "thanks"--can have big impact when it shows a new direction for your character.

How might moving from insight to action improve your story? What favorite books do this in a way that resonated with you long after you closed the covers?

6 comments:

  1. What an incredible post! I learned so much from this. What a way to make a credible and satisfying ending.

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    1. Glad you found it useful. I always get so much out of reading about psychology and had to share.

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  2. Excellent insight to apply to the entire character arc/plotting process!

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    1. That's a great point--that action should follow thought in story. Ideas acted on is how character growth is demonstrated and tested all the way through.

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  3. Great post. I'm just writing the denouement to my current WIP, so this gives me food for thought. Thanks.

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    1. Glad it was timely. Wishing you all the best with wrapping up this manuscript!

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