Sunday, December 2, 2012

Incite and Insight

Character change must mirror psychological change in the real world. Only a Pressure Point, or external impetus, can realistically motivate someone to take action instead of enduring the status quo. These actions build character arc. The first Pressure Point incites the entire journey, and subsequent ones thrust the protagonist into the next learning opportunity.

To illustrate, let’s say your neighbor inflicts numerous small inconveniences on you. He amasses leaves so they blow into your yard, damages your flowerbed with piles of grass clippings overheating in the sun, and lets his dog use your yard as a euphemism. One summer day, wearing shorts and flip-flops, you exit your backdoor only to slip on a gift from Rover. You-know-what is smeared all over your foot, shorts, legs and thighs. Ugh! Without pausing to shower, you bang on your neighbor’s door.

Why so angry? It’s what Malcolm Gladwell calls “the tipping point.” Suddenly your view of the situation isn’t just different but perfectly clear, as if the optometrist finally got the prescription right. Your neighbor isn’t malicious—wasn’t for the last six years and isn’t now. But his nonchalant apathy about boundaries amounts to abuse. And although you pride yourself on turning the other cheek and hoping he’ll curb both yard and dog waste, that strategy is history. Your new insight? Sometimes you must speak up for yourself, even if you’d rather avoid confrontation no matter what.

In fiction, Pressure Points incite insight the same way. Certain events—sources of pressure—insure that nothing will ever look the same again. The definition of “fair” or “reasonable” has changed irrevocably: You can no longer accept what seemed acceptable. That door has closed.

An added bonus? It’s not only the protagonist’s worldview that shifts. The reader’s does, also. Pressure Points invite readers to examine their own definitions of “fair” or “reasonable.” After all, isn’t that why people read fiction?

What lets Pressure Points offer the greatest insight?

·         Choose self-explanatory events; avoid the necessity for lots of backstory.
·         Use the physical world; avoid basing everything on thoughts or dialogue.
·         Exert great pressure: avoid the myth that anyone changes easily.

Tip: Use external pressure to reveal how we reach insight.

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