My personal life is in transition right now, and it’s making me a bit grumpy. Of course, life is always evolving, always changing, but some changes , like marriage, or a new baby, or a disaster, or a lottery win, are more immediate and more disruptive than others.
As an author, I find change, especially big, unexpected change, fodder for the imagination. Many books on writing recommend “begin at the moment of change.” And when I think about it, I believe I’ve read a number of books that begin with a marriage, or a new baby, or a disaster, or a windfall of fortune. They’re great stories, that yank the reader into the lives of the characters with the first sentence. The rest of the book explores the ramifications of that big change at the beginning, and follows the protagonist through the adjustments she makes until she emerges at the end of the story with a new normal. If it’s a romance, that new normal results in happily-ever-after.
The book I’m reading right now concerns an orphan in the mid-twentieth century. Talk about transitions! Each family she lives with wants to change her. They don’t like her hair, they don’t like her speech, the don’t like her name. During the course of her life her name is changed several times, merely to satisfy the sensibilities of others.
Classics, like Pride and Prejudice, begin with change – a newcomer to the district. Mysteries often start with a murder, a major transition if ever there was one. Regencies frequently begin with a young woman becoming an orphan, cast on the good graces (or not) of her relatives. A friend of mine is writing a story that begins with a jilting. Runaway Bride, starring Julia Roberts used that premise as well. In my book, The Man for Her, the story opens with the appearance of a man the heroine thought was dead.
Some transitions are less traumatic – a holiday, beginning university, starting a first job – but even such “tame” changes can generate a spellbinding story. Alice Munro, in her short story, “Runaway” begins with a neighbour returning from a holiday. Such a small change, yet it triggers a whole chain of events that change the heroine’s life..
The change in my life is not earth-shattering or traumatic, it’s merely unsettling. But, as an author, I have the opportunity to experience first-hand the emotional effect of a life changing event. This is why writers keep journals. Not only does a journal give me place to store ideas, impressions and insights, it gives me a safe place to write out my grumpiness so I can get on with enjoying my life, and all the changes that mark our days.
So, here’s to change — may it keep us involved and growing and learning.