I’m in the process of putting my greatest work—a science fiction novel I’m not allowed to name yet—through an excruciating rewrite. One of my assignments is to trace through my own story and identify the crucial turning points.
This is excessively difficult for me for several reasons. The first draft of the novel was written organically—as in, I had no plan when I began writing other than to scribble down a funny idea I had while sitting in an airport. But the story wouldn’t stay in the box, and by the time I had the novel written, I’d already written enough for three. My book club thanked me for this:
Matt: You know, in print, this would be like 700 pages, right?
Me: Err. Is that bad?
That was draft two. Draft three is now a trilogy. Problem solved, right? Not remotely. From a mentor at the New York Pitch Conference:
Mentor Mike: Ben, you need to have a cool villain in book one.
Me: (Cowering) There are plenty of cool villains in book one.
Mentor Mike: You know what I mean. THE cool villain. The one that you’re saving for later.
So now it’s down to brass tacks and agonizing over the anatomy of the different types of conflict. This is painful. I outline the entire first novel—something I’ve never done before—but that still doesn’t articulate the plot.
It’s 8:30 PM and everyone else has gone home to dinners and enjoyable pursuits, while I’m left staring at a computer screen. Again. In desperation, I tell myself I won’t leave my desk until I’ve completed this homework: define your crucial plot points. I’ll eat my entire store of applesauce packets if that’s what it takes to keep me going.
I start with a line, the protagonist’s static trajectory. I read my outline and add a new point, a nudge, something that changes him. From there I draw a new line, guessing where he’ll end up if he isn’t disturbed again.
But there’s a whole ‘lotta torture coming. I add a new point and a new line. More points. More lines. What I end up with is this: a pile of inflection points, moments after which the protagonist will never be the same. These points carry him step-by-step away from the safe, boring harbor he’d imagined for himself and into the wild unknown.
My main character faces decisions not unlike our own. For instance, we decide to become parents without knowing how it will turn out. We leave a comfortable employer for a better opportunity. We hitchhike cross-country for summer work and realize that home will never look the same because of the new perspective we’ve earned.
These moments are our own inflection points, permanent alterations in the course of our lives.
My challenge to you this week: do something you’ve never done before (preferably something ethical), and capture that moment in a private journal. If you’d like to share it, feel free to leave a comment. I read every one.