Monday, September 5, 2011

Tranformative Change

One of my very favorite writing books, which isn't really a writing book at all, is The Hero Within written by Carol Pearson. In it, the author talks about transformative change as we move through the different stages of our journey.

Transformative change. 

For some reason that phrase has really resonated with me, always in the back of my mind as I write. Probably in no small part because I've reached the point in the manuscript when everything is building to that big moment when my character sheds her old skin and steps into her new self. When she is truly and completely transformed by the events of the novel.

Then on twitter a while ago, I came across this quote by @Quotebelly:  

"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." - William Arthur Ward

And it hit me; the act of adjusting the sails is not just about being realistic; it is also about being open to transformative change. A mere realist would batten down the hatches and hold on. But the act of adjusting the sails, of preparing yourself to accommodate what life is about to send your way, is a much more profound act of acceptance.

For some people, those bumps on life's road completely derail them or make them bitter or cause them to feel victimized. And while I hate tragedy and mishap as much as the next person, one of the only ways I can put my head down and get through it, is to try and see the situation as an opportunity for that sort of deep rooted change. To extract the life lesson that the universe is sending me. In doing that, in finding some nugget of wisdom to take from the incident, I feel that no matter what I have lost, I have also won.

The thing is, no one taught me that; not my parents or a church or a therapist. I have managed to learn that concept though stories.

Which is why in fiction, as writers, it is so vital that things in our story make sense, that the events in our stories are pushing our characters toward this transformative change. That is one of Story's most important roles in our lives, showing us what that sort of deep change looks like, feels like, how to recognize and respond to the opportunities when they arise.


tanita davis said...

I always appreciate that you have the courage to go deep enough to be profound. This is something I have to think on and file away for a quiet ponder...

Tonja said...

I think that's the beauty part of writing - we have complete control of the outcome for our characters even if we don't entirely have that control in our own lives.

Anonymous said...

Excellent quote and post! Although I know that characters need show some transformation as a result of the torture we put them through, I've never really thought about where i learned this. I suppose it is from reading.

When we read/hear fictional and real-life stories of adversity leading to personal growth it's always inspiring, but I can't say I've ever thought to myself, "What an excellent opportunity for personal growth" when I'm in the middle of some crisis.

I've always thought of needing stories to help us make sense of the world, but perhaps this is another reason. To show us how to transform ourselves in the face of adversity, rather than just grow bitter.

Sarah said...

Postmodern fiction often scorns the notion of transformative change, preferring the definition of "realist" as: acknowledging the randomness of the universe and the pointlessness of suffering, while describing it all in beautiful prose. These are the kinds of stories that ring hollow for me. I prefer the harder reach of seeking, and then portraying, how the possibility of transformative change exists in every situation, in every moment. Thanks for articulating this so well.

Tiffany Trent said...

Robin, I don't know how you do it, but you always seem to come up with these amazing blog posts right when I need them. This one, in particular, both in life and fiction is so dead on, it's a bit shocking. Especially in a series where you're dealing with a character who continues to change and grow, I think this recognition of transformation is crucial to making the story last. Thanks for reminding me of that!

Starr said...

I have to say thank you. I just finished part one of my novel in progress last night. AS I begin to prepare to write chapter two, I realize that this is also the opportunity for the main character to change. That part two may not be the complete transformation but it is where the catalyst for change enters into the picture. And this post just put all of that in perspective.

AE Marling said...

Indeed, I think a story is only satisfying in the protagonist changes. Better yet, I am glad to find evidence that this helps people adapt to change themselves. Stories are internal journeys that smooth the way for external hardships.

Nisa said...

Ooh! i love that quote. Nice post on accepting change. (I'm kind of addicted to change. I have to learn to accept that some things stay the same...)