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Change and Decay All Around I See

Posted by Priscilla on May 13, 2013

Heraclitus is given the credit for saying that all things are in flux. Whether or not he really said it, change does appear to be the order in the physical world, does it not? And this flux appears to be bad, yes? After all, the second law of thermodynamics asserts that things fall apart.  Entropy. We certainly don’t like it when “things” (like our lives) fall apart.  It must be bad.

But it isn’t. Change, flux, entropy, things falling apart is good.

“What?!” 

Really, though.  Think about it. The plant blooms -- and then dies, its leaves eventually decomposing into the soil and providing nourishment for the next generation of plants. The waters eat away at the rock, destroying it, leaving the beauty of the canyon. The old structures and parameters, the old ways I made life work, fall apart, forcing me to grow. 

Change is never fun. It hurts most of us, because it means that something we love, something we depend on, is being taken away from us. But if we allow change to have its way with us, we can be assured that something better will come to take its place. At my college reunion this weekend, we heard from several of our now retired professors. One woman began by saying she had changed over the last several decades. Indeed, I remember her as angry and bitter. I would have called her a sourpuss. But when her closest relationship changed for good, and she was left only with herself, she took the opportunity to consider her life. Was I kind? That was her question for her younger self. Her answer was to become now a kind and gracious woman.

Now, what does this mean for the writer?

1.    Change is more than inevitable; it is necessary.

For any good to grow, something has to die. That is a rule of nature and it is a rule of story. Without struggle (death) and change, it is impossible to tell a story. We can write sketches, we can fill our pages with description, but if we don’t show struggle and change, we are not writing fiction. What is true for the story is true for the writer. Am I capable of growth? Can I still learn? If the answer is no, both my stories and I are slowly dying.

2.    Change must be part of every single scene in a novel. 

Change does not only go in one direction. Someone or someone’s circumstances can get worse. But they can also get better. As long as there is movement in some direction, the scene is complete and you can move on. Donald Maass, in his book The Fire in Fiction, calls this movement ‘turning points.’ He uses the plural because “every outer turning point has an inner counterpart.”  So, when the son dies, how is the father’s view of himself altered? When the woman discovers from her dead mother’s diary that her mother once took blame for another, how does this change her understanding of her own childhood?

3.    Change, or the seeds of change, must be planted into the beginning of every work of fiction.

 This means that even your very first sentence should make it clear that something “off of normal” has occurred or will shortly occur. Editor Lisa Rector suggests you ask four questions:

a)      What is your POV character on the verge of?

b)      Why is this happening now?

c)       What is in the way of your POV character attaining the very thing he is on the verge of?

d)      What are the consequences if he fails? If he succeeds?

 

Things are falling apart. That’s great news, for now something new can rise.

What do you think?

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