Today, I am thinking about my story.
I’m not talking about my work in progress, I’m talking about my story. The story of my life, the story of your life.
I just finished Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He talks about your life as a story, with the same character arcs, growth and development as you would see in a screenplay or a novel. What are you doing? he asks. Are you leaning toward comfort and ease in your life, or are you taking on challenges that stretch your comfort zone, making you a different person at the end than you were at the beginning?
It made me think about my story. Right now, my story is busy- busy running children hither and yon, busy working, volunteering, busy avoiding swine flu. I’d like to think that it’s getting me somewhere, taking this protagonist of mine (Susan) from point A to point B. I’m trying to make it a story that I would like to read one day and say, “nice story” and not say, “Whoa, boring. What’s the point of this?” As Miller says, no one wants to read about a man striving to buy a Volvo, then buying the Volvo and driving off the lot. The reader wants some action, some conflict, and some resolution. Are we giving that to our own lives?
We make our characters go through all kinds of machinations. They get their hearts broken, experience loss, and experience triumph. Sometimes we "kill our darlings" as Stephen King says. Sometimes, we map out their entire lives and then, when we sit down to write about them, they have other plans. They veer off and do crazy things we didn’t expect or want. Sometimes they are right, yet sometimes we, as the god of their creation, are right all along and truly do know what’s best for them.
Look at your protagonist: your protagonist must want something deeply, and overcome conflict to achieve it. They must be willing to sacrifice something great for this thing that they want, the greater the sacrifice the better the story, in a way. They must change throughout the story, from cruel to compassionate, or from angry to accepting.
I changed some things about my WIP this week, taking 30,000 words and deciding that as much as I love the characters I have drawn, they are my back story. My true protagonist is emerging. She is someone that I saw early on as a side character yet now it is her story that is capturing me- her struggles, her conflict, how she will change as the story progresses. I see greater things for her than she sees for herself. I have decided that she is the story now. I, as her creator, am smiling on her.
And I am going to take her places that she never imagined. She will tell this story now, and she will live it. Will she fight me? Or will she dance along willingly on her new journey? Just as our lives take us unexpected places, I imagine she will go somewhat reluctantly as I throw things at her she is not prepared for. But will it make a better story? I think so.
At the same time, I am looking at my life, as a mother and as a writer. I don’t want to seek the path of least resistance, I want to push forward through things that may be uncomfortable but that will make me a better lead character in my own life. When you think about it, there is no other way.