Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What Exactly is the Origin Scene in Memoir or Fiction? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The inciting incident is the start of story present. In my case it’s when a high school guidance counselor challenges me to help my special needs daughter through her high school years and I realize I can't do it without a college education myself.

The origin scene is where my misbelief about not being smart enough to handle college work originates. The origin scene and misbelief started when I myself tried to sign up for college prep courses in high school and was told more or less that I would fail if I attempted college.

Writers need to consider what the key origin scene is that starts the belief in a flaw that is so important to their particular protagonist in the fiction or memoir story they’re trying to tell. The origin scene is where the protagonist’s flaw first comes into play, and it usually happens during childhood, according to Lisa Cron, the creator of the Story Genius method of writing.  

A flaw develops in the protagonist’s logic in the origin scene to help the protagonist cope at that particular time in his or her life with the situation at hand.

Why did Victoria believe she wouldn’t succeed in college? In 1973, she brought home the course selections book for high school. Her parents needed to sign off on the courses. 

*Rough origin scene, Victoria’s 13 years old:

 Dad picked up the folder.  “What’s this, Vic?” 
He pointed to the curriculum path I chose.  College Prep.
I was all smiles.  They should be so proud of my choice.  Me, the daughter who had so much trouble in school before.  Now I was considering college.
            “Vic,” he said, “We don’t go to college.”  He placed the folder back on the table.
            “What?”  Can’t just anybody go away to college?  I didn’t get it.  “Dad.”  I looked at my mother.  “I want to be a writer.”  And an actress, I thought, but I couldn’t tell Daddy that.  He already told me that was stupid when I had mentioned it to Mom last year.
            “College is for doctors and lawyers,” he said.
            That’s all?  Really?  I was at a loss of what to say.  I shook my head.  “But all the authors I read about…”
            “They must be rich,” he said.  “We’re not.”  He leaned forward on the table.  “There’s no money for college, Vic,” he informed me, in that definitive tone I knew so well.  He pushed the folder back to me.  “We’re a working class family.  Everybody goes to work after high school.”  He rose from the table.  “At real jobs,” he added. 
But why can’t working class people go to college?  I felt my dream slipping away.  I searched my brain for some proof.  “Dad, Betty’s sister wants to be a teacher, and she’s going to college.”  I glanced up at him. 
He was looking at my mother.  Neither one said anything. 
“Vic,” Dad said finally.  “What makes you think you’re smart enough to do it?”
I felt like it was the middle of summer instead of early spring.  I wanted to run outside into the darkness to cool off.  Or was it to hide from my past? I struggled so much in school before 6th grade.  Mom told me that the school had wanted to hold me back in 3rd grade but Daddy wouldn’t let them.  He had worked with me in math for hours after his night shift had finished.  Yet I continued to struggle in 4th and 5th grade.  But somehow in 6th grade I finally got it, although it took much studying and work on my part.
“Dad,” I said desperately, “I’m on the honor roll now.” 
“You need more than that to survive college, Vic.  Play it safe.  Go to work.”  When I didn’t reply, he left the room.
I sat there dumbfounded, trying to make sense of this. My parents didn’t go to college. And neither did my girlfriend’s parents.  Mom’s a secretary.  And Dad’s a machinist.  They have a house and cars.  They’re successful.  So are my friends’ parents.  College isn’t necessary for success. It didn’t matter what other writers had done.
            Daddy’s right.  If I tried college and failed, I’d embarrass them.  And Dad wouldn’t be able to help me this time with math.  It’s good to know this now before I have trouble with college prep courses.  And even if I did all that work, I wouldn’t have anything to study at college because I don’t want to be a doctor.  I don’t like blood and guts.  And I don’t want to be a lawyer because I’m afraid of the bad guys.  And I don’t need to struggle in college and then fail, proving to Dad that I’m not smart enough. 
*End of scene.

The origin scene begins a misunderstanding in the protagonist’s life. This misunderstanding must be connected to the main thrust of the story. And the misunderstanding should become a way for the protagonist to save herself from future problems. In my case, the misunderstanding that I’m not college material would save me from failure in life. I needed to choose a more secure path without the need to struggle further in my education.

Does this sound overly dramatic to you? Your insight is always appreciated.

The origin scene’s misunderstanding blooms into the flaw that the protagonist carries around with her for the rest of the story. But remember, to the protagonist, this misconstrued logic shows her how to interpret life so no harm or bad feelings come to her in the future.

Victoria’s father made it clear that doing well in the basic classes does not prepare one for college, in his mind. Victoria needed to be smarter. And she wasn’t. He instilled in her that failure in life is not good. Victoria interpreted this as “don’t attempt anything that you might fail at.” So she stayed away from college until her own daughter wanted the same dream.

Remember that many times, the antagonist’s intentions seem logical to him. They’re from his own life experience. The antagonist, many times, is just trying to help the protagonist. 

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

I think all writers do this, although sometimes without realizing it. I know I do.

            In memoir, of course personal information is shared. That’s what memoir is all about, allowing your reader to share your experience. But in my fiction, when a critique partner asks why a particular character didn’t do what the partner expected, I answer, “Oh, that’s because he would never do that.”

            And my critique partner would say, “No, Vic. It’s YOU who would never do that. Your protagonist must do that so the story can move forward.”

            And that’s the point. All writers need to have their stories move forward, no matter if we share a part of ourselves in the story through a character or an event or experience or make things up. Stories must move forward to interest readers.

            But writers must also remember that sometimes real life isn’t easy to believe. This happened in a few of my short adventure stories for teens. I usually set my story in a national park my family has visited. When my husband and I camp with five kids, we try to take in as many of the park ranger hikes and talks as possible. That’s where I get my knowledge that’s shared through my YA adventure stories.

            In two of my stories published in Cricket Magazine, the editor contacted me about the reality of the situation. Remember that I write contemporary and not sci-fi or fantasy. The first story question was easy. I simply sent him links to prove my point: one to the park webpage and one to a blog post that explained my family’s experience with the park and had a photo of trees and pine cones with people to give perspective. Writers always want to make things as easy as possible for busy editors, right?      

            The second question the same editor had was in a later story. The only proof I could tell him was that we heard a similar situation from the park ranger on a hike in that particular national park. I gave the editor a link to the park’s website. The editor bought the story.

            I wonder if this particular editor thinks I send my own children into all these risky and scary situations alone as I do my protagonist. I hope not. Therein lays the fiction part.

            Whether writers use personal experience or beliefs or events in their writing or not, we writers need to be sure those personal experiences sound logical in the stories we tell, even in fantasy and sci-fi. Good luck in your story telling!

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This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.