Monday, June 20, 2011

Two Choices, One Solution

It seems as though I've fallen into an accidental series. I began with Four Words, Endless Possibilities, an inspiring post about the very beginning of any story. Then was Three Words, One Feeling, which concerned the very end of many stories and humanity's yearning for happiness.

And today, the series continues with a story of something that happened to me, and how it relates to storytelling.

My life turned upside-down on 22 February, at the start of this year. Most of you will already know about my city's battle with earthquakes over the last year from my previous post, or maybe from this one, which I published directly after the earthquake in February. But on that day, my city was thrust into disaster, and I was thrust into making one of the biggest decisions of my life.

After the quake, I had the rare opportunity to switch schools. Things had already changed so much - why not take that extra step and change them a bit more? I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave the state boys' school I am currently attending in order to pursue a new life a a semi-private, co-education, Christian school on the other side of the city, where I knew a total of no-one.

And it became a real dilemma for me for quite a few weeks, because, the truth is, I was not scared of not knowing anyone. In actual fact, I was excited by it. It was one of the most appealing things about the school (apart from there being girls there), because it meant that I could reinvent myself. No-one at that school had any preconceptions of me, so I could have been anyone I wanted to be and no-one would have questioned it. I could have entirely started over, wiped the slate clean.

But I didn't.

Why not? If I was not a storyteller, the extent of my answer would simply be that the loyalty I felt towards my current school outweighed the desire I had to go to a new one. And that's valid. However, I am a storyteller, and when I looked at this question from a storyteller's point of view, I discovered another simple, but very true answer: nothing forced me to leave.

Nothing forced me to leave.

In writing, the dilemma I experienced is often referred to as the "call to adventure". It occurs in Act One of a story (see below), and most of the time, although a character may struggle with it, the call to adventure is ignored. Only when something happens to force the character into this strange new world (represented by the first red dot on the diagram below) is the "call to adventure" accepted. The character enters a new world (Act Two), because they had no other choice.

James Scott Bell writes in his book, "Plot & Structure", "We are creatures of habit; we search for security. Our characters are the same. So unless there is something to push the Lead into Act II, he will be quite content to stay in Act I!"

It makes sense, too. That's why I didn't change schools after the earthquake. Although I didn't realise it at the time, I was content where I was, and I had no huge reason to change - which is exactly what characters need.

And you have to give them that.


  1. I like the comparison here. Actually, I was faced with a similar dilemma (switching schools, at least, though nothing as drastic as earthquakes) six years ago and ended up switching, spending my high school years a state away from all my friends. I guess those years could be called an adventure, but there are more interesting ones to tell.

    This is the part I always have trouble with though. Once I get the boulder going it rolls just fine; it's moving it in the first place that's the problem.

  2. Wow that's really interesting using stories in life instead of using life in stories... huh.

  3. Thanks, Will. The main point I guess is that, wow, it was a huge decision I had to make. Maybe my life at that other school might not have been entirely adventurous, but I would still have been a different life.

    And yes, beginnings can sometimes be difficult - that can feel boring and mundane, right? But I think it is just a matter of setting up the characters' lives so that the reader cares for them. And, especially in a fantasy, introducing the reader to the world (my favourite thing about fantasy - the foreign world).

  4. @Gracie: Interesting as in ... ? Haha, I'm of the belief that everything the happens in life is part of one big story. And sometimes it sure seems that way, too.


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