Write It Sideways

Why Novelists Can Embrace Unexpected Life Change

So, you’re going along, making plans for your life, and everything seems to be falling into place.

But the next thing you know, something unexpectedly comes up. Some unwanted life change. And just as the worst time possible.

A couple of days ago—just two weeks before the lease expires on the home we rent—we got a call from the property manager. “Sorry,” she said. “The owners don’t want to renew your lease. They’re going to renovate the house and sell it.”

We’ve lived in this house for four years, and we fully expected to stay at least one more year before purchasing our own home. We had plans. We had a budget.

“But wait,” we said. “Can’t we negotiate this? Twelve months—we just need 12 more months!”

“Sorry.”

So, suddenly, instead of staying put for a year and then buying our own home, we’re moving into another rental home. Some reasons this is troublesome are:

  1. It doesn’t make sense financially. With all the added expenses of moving, and increased rental payments due to limited availability of other rental properties in the area, this move may push our plans of homeownership further down the track.
  2. It doesn’t make sense logistically. This house is in the perfect location for my husband to walk to work, so we can share a car. The house is also close to the centre of town, so I can walk to the shops or to appointments with my toddler when I don’t have the car. If we have to move to a different part of town, we may need to buy another vehicle.
  3. It will interfere with my writing. I’m in the thick of writing an eBook right now, along with blogging twice a week. I don’t want to put my writing aside while I pack up and move my home. We might also be disconnected from the internet for a while during the moving process, which could interfere with my online work.

Still, we have no choice.

We have to go on.

The course has changed and our plans must change with it.

First Plot Points = Unexpected Life Change

Author Larry Brooks of Storyfix has written what I consider to be the absolute best series on story structure, as well as a highly recommended book from Writer’s Digest called Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing.

In one of his articles, Larry defines the first plot point of a story as follows:

[T]he moment when something enters the story in a manner that affects the hero’s status and plans and beliefs, forcing her or him to take action in response […] The arrival of the FPP means that what the hero thought was true may not be. It means safety is being threatened.  It means everything must stop until this problem is addressed.

In another article, Larry says:

The most important moment in your story is when everything changes for the hero.  When what the hero believes is her reality experiences a sudden shift. Suddenly there’s a new deal on the table that sends your hero down an altered, unexpected path.

Does that sound a bit like your own life? Yeah, mine too.

In real life, things rarely go as planned.

As novelists, unexpected changes in our lives help us better understand the struggles of our characters. The changes characters experience at the first plot point reflect the changes we experience in real life.

That means we writers know what stirs up people emotionally, and know just how to make readers empathize with our characters.

Delivering Powerful Emotional Experiences

In his book, Fiction Writing for Dummies, Randy Ingermanson (check out his blog, Advanced Fiction Writing) repeatedly drives home the point that our biggest job as writers of fiction is to deliver a powerful emotional experience for our readers.

What’s the best way to do that? Draw on the powerful emotional experiences of your own life. These might include:

Luckily for me, I understand that there’s light at the end of the tunnel with my current personal situation. I know things could be a whole lot worse, and I’m still grateful for all that we have.

Eventually, we’ll find our way. It’s just that we have a few obstacles to overcome in the process, and there will likely be more unforeseen hurdles ahead.

Writers of fiction can embrace unexpected change because—difficult as it is to deal with—it helps us better understand our characters, and to deliver powerful emotional experiences to our readers.

And you know what? Sometimes, in real life and in fiction, those pesky life redirections turn out to blessings in disguise.