The Moment When Everything Changes

As writers, we're often given the advice that our stories should begin "the moment everything changes", when the world becomes different enough to be a catalyst to change the way things have always been done.

This goes along with the million other pieces of advice that we are supposed to deciminated and integrate... and all while we are to remain original and authentic. Sounds easy, huh?! I mean, really, within the first three chapters we need to introduce character, setting, motivation, conflict and good dose of imagination. And, if your writing a suspense or mystery you need to add in a few red herrings, a believeable crisis and maybe a dead body or two... So, how the heck do we do that when we have to start at a point where the characters are being thrust into a situation where they don't even know themselves or how they are going to react?

For years, I thought this meant that I had to start with an immediate action. For Obsidian, it was the moment when his friend's boat blows up and he finds himself witness to the horrific death. This is the catalyst that propels him to go beyond the boundaries of his job to investigate. For Three Truths it is something much simpler. Katie recognizes that her life has become stagnant and whimsically wishes for a change that is offered to her in the form of fairy godmother with matchmaking skills. Two very different stories. Two very different beginnings, but both have the same elements.

A change that is a catalyst and precipitates an awareness that causes the character to move beyond their normal "mode of operation".

Huh? What? This is no different than the advice we've been given all along. Why should I listen to you? No reason. Not really. Except that despite the fact that I've been fighting this instinct for years I have come to believe that the essence of the advice is good and true. Maybe with a little clarification.

Think about it. Fifteen pages of a character explaining about the shoes she bought or the way the moonlight is falling across the snow and we're all in for a snooze. I have limited time to read these days and we are all in an instant society, meaning you've got to catch my attention pretty quickly to keep me reading. I can't tell you how many books I've bought that I just stopped reading because I wanted to know one thing... "why".

Starting with a bang is great. It's needed for many books so that the tone can be set, especially if it's a suspense. But not all stories need to start with a boat being blown up. Some need to start with a whisper, with a hint that something much bigger is just a step away. Your reader and your character need to be breathless with anticipation, or anger, or curiosity, anything that will make them know that something is about to happen.

Ultimately, it comes down to motivation.
One of the biggest misconceptions beginning writers have is that they work so hard to set up the character's motivation at the beginning of the story that they believe it has to be strong enough to remain throughout. Not so. A good motivation is like a good character arc. It needs to grow and change, and sometimes, completely fall away. There is nothing so powerful as a character that must give up what they always believed was their greatest desire in order to benefit someone else. Think about it. Sometimes, it's not the major sacrifices that make the biggest impacts, but the smallest changes that create the biggest tremor in your book and your readers.

Have you gone BLUE?

The first time she went in for a colonoscopy she was only slightly scared. After all, she hadn't had any symptoms, nothing to indicate that there was any problem. She probably wouldn't have even been there had it not been for the fact that her brother had just recently been diagnosed with colon cancer and the doctors had suggested that all immediate relatives of age have a colonoscopy. There was no other history of it in the family and her brother was already well on his way for treatment. It was just a test. They wheeled her in to the viewing room, gave her the injection to make a little more comfortable and little less self-conscious about the procedure and the started with the colonoscopy. Ten minutes later she was back in her room. It sounded like a dream, most of the words the doctors spoke were fuzzy, hazed by the medicine, but one thing was clear, or rather unclear. They were unable to finish the colonoscopy because her colon was almost completely blocked with polyps.

This was the beginning of my mother's journey with Colon Cancer. I was there that day. I was the one waiting for her to come out of the procedure. I was the one they told that there too many polyps to continue. I was also the one who had to tell my mother after the doctors didn't come back for a long time. Sounds like I'm pitying myself, but that's not really the case. The words were probably more of a comfort coming from me then they ever could have been coming from a doctor or nurse. But the diagnose was the same. Regardless of who or when the information was delivered, the diagnosis was the same. My mother had colon cancer.

Ultimately, my mother went through it twice. Both times she had part of her colon removed and underwent treatment to kill of any lingering cancer. Both times the cancer came back. She lost her battle with cancer when she was just 63. Two years to retirement age. Too many years too soon. You hear so many talk about the courageousness of those with cancer, my mother experienced an almost Zen like transformation that made me think that in some way she found comfort and offered it to those of us around her. Nothing else seemed to matter after she knew the final diagnosis. It was what it was. The rest was just stuff, as she often told me.

The rest was just stuff. Very prophetic words and one that I try to rely on to this day when things get rough. Since my mother's death almost 9 years ago I've had three colonoscopy with only one instance of polyps. I don't care how rough the pre-treatment is I still do it. If your family has a history of colon cancer then you should, too.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Know your family history. Suck it up and do the prep and the test. And never take a day for granted.   

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