1. Thunderhead

    Thunderhead Member

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    Help with picking a life-changing circumstance

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Thunderhead, Oct 21, 2017.

    Hello writers

    I'm grappling with an idea and would love to pick the collective WF brain for some help in the development process. Basically I have a character in mind who has lived her life a certain way, with a certain world-view, and has over a period leading up to the point in her life where the story commences been experiencing increasing disquiet, stemming from a growing sense that the world is not as she has perceived it to be. She eventually comes to the inescapable realisation that she has been living a lie, and she is shaken to the core, the very foundations of her life just crumble. She then has to sort through the wreckage and pick up the pieces of her life - the mental image I have is standing amid the rubble (metaphorically speaking) and staring her right in the face is the question, "what now?" Where do you go from such a comfortless place, what do you do when everything familiar is gone?

    She is at a total loss, but out of the ashes will rise the phoenix so to speak and it ultimately becomes a transformative experience for her. She battles the temptation to bury her knowledge and run back to the lie, because it's familiar and comfortable, it's like home; but the truth won't be ignored. After a period of uncertainty, with emotions such as grief, anger, pain and sadness, she emerges with clarity that she's never had before - an ability to see herself for who and what she is, to realise her strength and courage, and to live her life to fullest. In a nutshell, the lie has been holding her back for all her life and clouding her vision of herself and the world around her, her potential and her place in that world. She has believed herself to be less than she really is, and possibly the lie by its nature has in some way incriminated her (in her own mind if not the minds of others) and caused her to carry guilt that isn't hers to bear. When she finally throws off that mantle - letting go of all the hurt, all the misdirected guilt - she is truly free. Words like vindication and catharsis come to mind here, perhaps as central themes.

    I don't want it to be a telling of events per se, more an emotional journey, a picture of the metamorphosis that occurs when we're faced with major life changes. I do need to have a clear plot in mind though, a sequence of events that provide the catalyst for that emotional change, and that is what I'm struggling with. I can't come up with a physical sequence of events, or what the 'lie' could be, to illustrate the emotional story I can see so clearly.

    So in summary, I would love to hear any thoughts on this. Am I overthinking this? Have I gone about it backwards?

    Or... do you have any ideas for a relatable and credible metaphor for the emotional journey I want to describe?
     
  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum! I think this is a very good theme to underpin a story. It's a common thread in our lives, actually. We spend a lot of time unlearning what we thought we knew, don't we? And in the process, we learn new skills and approaches, that turn our lives in a different direction.

    The danger will come if you write your story in such a way that you're banging the reader over the head all the time with the significance of your theme. Try not to make it a parable. Make it a story. At the end, the reader should recognise the theme, but maybe won't be aware of it UNTIL the end.

    What has motivated you to choose this theme?
     
  3. Thunderhead

    Thunderhead Member

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    Thanks very much for your reply Jannert, and for the welcome :)

    It's just something that has been a theme in my life in recent years, and that I've spent some time reflecting on as an important part of growing up (whatever age it happens at). I don't really want to write about my own experience as a plot so much, but it definitely has influenced my thought process to date.

    A parable is something I definitely want to avoid, there's no message or lesson as such that I want to get across- just an experience. I definitely would run a risk of getting bogged down in my own feelings/perspective if I don't treat it right, so I'm still not sure if this is the right route to go. I may end up weaving this as a minor theme into an entirely different story, and it might work better that way, being a little more subtle.
     
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  4. WillWriteforFood

    WillWriteforFood New Member

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    Her life is built only around materialistic things until she loses all of them in a fire, forcing her to confront her emptiness , realize what really matters, and turning your metaphorical rubble literal :)
     
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  5. Poetical Gore

    Poetical Gore Member

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    Reading the title I was thinking of the phoenix and then you mention it. Now parable no, but allegory yes.

    Now remember the Phoenix burns the old dead parts....now those are not only traits but also company to some degree. Now, what do you do when you lose everything? You go on an adventure in a strange land and slay the dragon and get the treasure and the maiden, of course!

    Remember, you are talking about transformation here. Get as crazy as you want.

    Oh, relevant 2 minute video!
     
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  6. Thunderhead

    Thunderhead Member

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    I like the idea of examining what happens when you strip everything right back, and are forced to have a raw and honest look at what you really are without all that.


    That was a great video, thanks for sharing! Some really interesting thoughts on transformation. I love the symbolism of the Phoenix, and the necessity of burning the deadweight or negative things in your life in order to emerge 'reborn'.
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Gosh. I was immediately struck by the fact that this is what lots of people, maybe even some we know personally, are going through just now. What with the wildfires in California and other parts of the western states, and the devastating hurricanes that have swept away people's homes and livelihoods, I can't think of a better time to choose this theme to write about.

    Some people choose to 'give up their old lives' or take a new direction because they feel they need change. They get to choose how and when that happens. However, other people who were perfectly happy with their old lives, can get that old life taken away from them—sometimes in the blink of an eye.

    I wonder what similarities and differences will exist between these two types of situations.
     
  8. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    Nope, you are not overthinking this. The challenge will be anchoring these life-changing thoughts in external events. No one changes without first starting to think, and I feel this kind of bottom-up doesn't come without being forced. Changing this much is hard, and needs events to start them, for her to begin to question her values, step by heart-wrenching step. Coming into conflict with her job, her friends, her family, because all of them know her as the person she was. Which she will not be anymore, the more she changes.

    I guess this boils down to: You need a driving plot. So far you've the inner journey, which you've mapped out very well, but the events that accompany it need to be there, too :)
     
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  9. Thunderhead

    Thunderhead Member

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    That's an interesting question! I think one big difference is, in the case where someone chooses a life change, they also choose what they do and don't keep (e.g. if you move countries, you can take your family and possessions with you); whereas in a situation where the change is forced upon them (e.g. losing everything in a fire or natural disaster) they have to let go of things or people that they didn't want to be without. Psychologically I guess that puts you in a very different place. It's not hard to leave a job you're not satisfied with, or to have an adventure in a new place, if you can keep the parts of the life that you are happy with. As for similarities, I think change can have unexpected and unforeseen consequences, for better and for worse, whether you chose the change or not.

    Thanks for the encouragement :) I do need a plot, and I want it to be the right one! It's doing my head in trying to map it out, and I think it's because I'm too focused on the part that I already know. It feels like I should have a story in mind, and then imagine the internal process that happens as a result of those events, but I'm doing it the other way around.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, speaking as somebody who did move to another country over 30 years ago, I have to say that no, you don't always get to take your family and possessions with you. In fact, you can take very little with you, unless you're rich and can afford to basically put everything on a ship. And family? No, that's not possible. I mean, if you're married and have children you can probably arrange at some point for them to move with you. But immigration regulations are very strict, and they were back 30 years ago as well. It's far from an automatic thing. While you make the choice to move, it really is a permanent split. And your extended family and friends (and pets) stay behind. You do choose to make this change to your life, but it's a big one.
     
  11. Thunderhead

    Thunderhead Member

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    My family moved a lot when I was growing up, internationally, and it was always together as a family. My parents' choice to do that meant that we were not in the same country as their parents or other extended family for most of my childhood, but a move was only an option if our family unit remained together. A lot of the time, relocation was part of my dad's employment package, and I would assume that also helped with immigration. There were limits on how much stuff we could ship, so we were frequently selling things, giving them away, or putting them in storage if it was worthwhile (which most of the time it wasn't). It's part of the choice isn't it? In my experience, frequently moving, I got to take the possessions that mattered to me at the time, and rarely missed anything I couldn't take. I grew up without my extended family around, but never without my immediate family. I'm sure sometimes people can't move and keep their family together the whole time, but considering my own experience, I wouldn't say that it isn't possible.

    What was harder though, and has been since, is how frequently I left friends behind. I was always changing schools, so friends were never a constant in my life. I was good at making friends, but not so good at keeping them, because I always knew it was temporary anyway. I still find that I have a tendency to let go of friendships too easily, and that's something that has been a consequence of a nomadic early life.
     
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  12. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I hate being away from so many of my friends. Thanks to things like email and Facebook and cheap international phone tariffs, we can keep in close touch. But I hardly ever get to see them any more, and certainly can't be part of their daily lives. Same with my sister, niece and nephew (my only immediate family relatives still alive.) I am still good friends with many people from my childhood ...grade school days as well as high school, college and beyond ...but we just don't see each other any more, except in photos.

    I made up my mind, when I moved here to get married at the age of 37, that I wouldn't be trying to keep a foot in each camp. I know people who do, or did. People who tried to go 'home' a couple of times a year, and were constantly going back for this or that ...weddings, funerals, etc. However, I made it clear from the start that I wouldn't be doing that. Not only can I not afford it, but it would keep me in an unsettled state. I wanted to fully settle into my new home here. Several people I know who did keep running back and forth, eventually ended up going 'back' permanently, and I didn't want to do that.

    Moving around a lot, including living overseas must be unsettling for any child, and I sympathise with the idea that you were never allowed to keep your friends. That's sad, actually. I feel lucky that I was settled long enough to have established childhood friends who are still my friends. My very best friend of all time is somebody I met at our first day of college, when we were both 18, but I've got quite a few friends whom I met in grade school and high school as well. I was lucky. I never thought I'd be the one who would leave, because many of them were the ones who talked about wanting to live elsewhere, but you never know what life is going to throw at you, do you?

    I am now a UK citizen and have given up my US citizenship, so I couldn't 'go back' even if I wanted to. (Which I don't.) I've since made a life here and have gathered new possessions which I value and would hate to lose. The few items I still have from my past life are very precious to me, and I would hate like hell to lose them.

    A fire or flood, where you lose everything you own, must be a devastating thing to live through.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2017
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  13. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    It depends on the circumstances in which one left their country. Artists who defected from Russia during the Cold War (the subject of my WIP), often could not take their closest loved ones with them, and in many cases, never saw them again. There are many, many stories of people whose spouses, at the last minute, were too terrified to leave, or who couldn't bear to leave their elderly parents so stayed behind. Or who never saw their siblings or parents again.

    When I was doing research on this, I happened to meet someone who had been an Armenian refugee. He had a large family, but they literally had to "pick four people" who could come to the US, so the eldest teenage children could not come. So it was him, his mother, his father, and one sibling. He described to me the process his parents went through to finally arrive at who got to come here. He did not see his siblings for many years. More than 34 years later, it was still painful for him to think about.

    ETA: For the OP, a fire or hurricane would definitely do it. Or divorce in which she loses everything because divorce is expensive, and her ex could have had IRS issues on a joint return.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2017
  14. Thunderhead

    Thunderhead Member

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    I would put those situations in the category of change that is forced by external factors beyond a person's control, rather than change that is chosen. The latter is what I was really referring to when I mentioned moving countries; I wouldn't see fleeing war-related situations as being a choice at all. Being forced to leave one child behind in order to save another would be as heartbreaking as any other catastrophe I could imagine.

    Divorce is an interesting idea, I haven't been through it but I think it probably has a lot in common with the internal situation I'm picturing. Particularly the moving on, letting go of something and finding a better way forward.
     
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  15. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Another way to lose everything and start over would be due to something like gambling addiction or substance addiction, or that of one's spouse or partner. People always think of the rehab aspect, but the financial effects can linger for years.

    I think you have a concept a lot of people will be able to relate to, for many reasons.
     
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