1. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    What kind of internal catalyst would change this hopeless loser's mindset?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by FireWater, Aug 8, 2016.

    I was thinking on my commute to work about the story I'll write after I finish my current WIP, probably for this year's National Novel Writing Month. This novel concept is a lot different from my current YA dystopia - it's simpler, and about a character's personal journey from the bottom to [a place in life closer to] the top.

    In the beginning, my main girl is a 30-something Walmart worker who has been stuck in an emotionally abusive, dysfunctional marriage with her husband she married at age 18. The two of them live in a bug-infested trailer in a swampy small town where nothing ever happens. She dropped out of high school, has no other education, and has no other work experience besides working at Walmart and a few past jobs like Taco Bell cashier, gas station janitor, etc. Her husband doesn't physically beat her, but he's narcissistic and sexist and makes her feel like shit about herself, to the point where she's become a shell of a person. She grew up as a kid neglected and abused in a large dysfunctional family, so toxic dynamics are her norm and she basically just plods along thinking her life is all set and destined. She is 300 pounds, frumpy, wears stained gross sweatpants every day, never takes care of her personal appearance, lives on a diet of packaged pastries and McDonalds, has no friends except her abusive husband, etc. She has no real sense of identity, and obviously has a very negative outlook on life.

    My story is about her changing. Over the course of the novel, she will get her GED and enroll in a nursing program, leave the asshole, make a couple of positive friendships, start getting her health in check (she won't be hot and fit by the end, but she'll have made a noticeable difference in the right direction), explore her options of more promising places to live once she's a nurse, etc. The story ultimately is about her changing, becoming empowered as a human being, and realizing that it's never too late to get a life and stand on your own two feet. Along the way she encounters issues like run-ins with her abusive family-of-origin, the stigma of feeling like a loser, naysayers who want to keep her down, etc but she develops the strength to rise beyond them in the quest for her own self.

    My question is, what would the catalyst for making this change? I don't want it to include another person (like a romance interest or friend) coming in and setting her straight, because 1) I want this to be about moving forward in life even when you truly have no one, and 2) This is an internal-driven story, and the catalyst needs to be something within her own mindset.

    So what might this internal catalyst be?

    Edit to add: I don't want to go the pregnancy route, because realistically that would make her upward mobility even harder, and I also don't want to have her need a baby in order to save herself. I want her to save herself for her own sake. Also, while therapy can change a person's mindset and while she'll probably see a counselor at some point, I'm talking about the initial starting point where she'd even be willing to seek help/change in the first place. This would be the thing that would need to happen *before* she looks into counseling resources or does any other positive change. I'm looking for what would make her start taking those steps.
     
  2. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe her husband has an accident, has to spend a few weeks in the hospital, and she gets to see the first glimmer of what life would be like without him? It wouldn't be complete, she would still be committed to him and he would still expect her to stay at the hospital with him every chance she gets, but coming home and knowing for a fact that he's not going to be there could be the first half-step.

    I'm not sure if the change can be entirely internal - learned helplessness is unfortunately a thing - but it could probably still work to be a lot more internal than external.
     
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  3. Laurin Kelly
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    Laurin Kelly Active Member

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    Perhaps the death of a friend/family member in similar circumstances to her own, and it motivates her to want more out of life?
     
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  4. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Thank you for responding. That could be an interesting idea. But what would her thought process be for deciding to get into action, instead of just spending the time sleeping or eating food in front of the TV?

    I just feel like in order for her to see that situation for its potential, she'd need some kind of seed planted in her mind that it is, truly, possible to change her own destiny. Otherwise, without the seed being planted, she'd just spend that free time wallowing away.

    Maybe something that happens at the Walmart where she works? Something where an unusual problem is thrust in front of her, and solving it makes her feel a bit more empowered?

    Laurin, I like that. I think i'll use that for a later scene, where she starts to doubt herself and stall her progress, and then somebody croaks and it makes her seize the life she has. Either that, or she makes a friend who helps her and motivates her, and when that friend dies she realizes that she can't depend on helpers and that she must keep going for herself.
     
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  5. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    So I had an idea. What if in the 2nd chapter (after we see how shitty her status quo is), she's the sole cashier left at the 24/7 Walmart, at 3 a.m. (she works at Walmart by night and sleeps all day, what a life!), except for her boss who's off playing on his phone somewhere in the back. A girl comes in, in her early 20s, who's on a road trip fleeing from an abusive relationship. She needs some kind of help--maybe a gas voucher or food that she comes up a few dollars short on--and the MC helps her. At first she sees the situation as an imposition and is resentful and afraid of being asked to go above and beyond, but since she's passive and the situation is right there, she helps anyway (sneaks the free food so her boss doesn't see, prints out a map on the work computer, etc). Her outlook on the situation gradually changes, and she starts getting some empowerment from it, and it makes her reflect on her own choices as well.

    Does anyone have other ideas that I should consider? Maybe other catalysts that could work better? Or anything I should keep in mind while writing from the POV of this type of character?
     

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