Updated: Aug 23, 2020
So this is a tip I learned from James Scott Bell. He talks about it in his book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. I advise everyone to go buy his book and read it, as I won't cover even a fraction here of what his book covers. He's a very wise man and a very good writer.
But if you don't know where to start writing your story, consider your character's transformation.
There's always a point in every story where the character stops to take stock of their situation and consider who they are and how they're going to handle things. It's the moment of transformation for them. You might say they reflect on what's happened up until now in the story. They make a decision and, most often, become a new person in some way.
As always, the best way to learn this is by looking at examples.
I keep using Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice, but hey, that book is a classic for a reason. I touched on her moment of transformation when I talked about using the 9 Essential Plot Points for romance. It's the scene where Lady Catherine visits her in the dead of night. This is where Elizabeth finally admits to herself and all but admits to Lady Catherine, that she has romantic feelings for Mr. Darcy. Before this, we see her denying and minimizing it, especially when she talks to Jane. So this is her moment of transformation. And notice how it's tied directly to the romance.
Let's look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The moment of transformation is when Harry, Ron and Hermione are trying to get into the dungeon to stop the villain (who they think is Snape but is actually Quirrell) from getting the Sorcerer's Stone. Ron gets hurt and Harry tells Hermione to take Ron back to get help and he'll face the villain alone. They have a conversation about friendship and loyalty and bravery. It's very different from where Harry started out at the beginning of the story, and it's that stuff, spurred by events that have happened in the story, that give Harry the bravery to face Quirrell alone.
In LOTR, The Fellowship of the Ring (film) Frodo's transformation comes at the end, when he finally decides to commit to taking the ring into Mordor alone. I talked about this in my original 9 Plot Points post. He looks back over what's happened, remembers Gandalf's words, and decides, once and for all, to take the ring. he goes from having severe doubts that he can accomplish this, to simply deciding that he can and will.
Transformation, my friends! And THAT is the stuff of which great stories are made.
But why is the transformation moment important for crafting your story? What's next?
Well, first let's keep a few things in mind. This transformation will not inform your plot events so much as your character's internal conflict. However, the two of them should be tied together in some way. In any great story (see the 9 Plot points) the character is thrown into a set of events outside their control. At some point (Mid or Turning point) they made a choice to act rather than be acted upon. And that choice should lead to their transformation.
But why is it important to START your story by defining the transformation? Because then you can use that to write the rest of the story. Let's look at Harry Potter again. I'm not saying J.K. Rowling used this to write book 1, but let's pretend for a moment that she did. If she decided that her transformation would be about a young boy who enters a new, magical world and finds friendship, courage, and acceptance there, then she already knows how the story (The World Before) will begin: as the opposite of that. and that's exactly what Rowling does. Harry starts out in a world where he has no friends, a terrible, abusive family, and is constantly told that he's worthless. In the wizarding world, he finds friends, his own courage, and true acceptance of who he is.
And the transformational moment is when he REALIZES that.
After figuring out the world before, the next question we might ask is, what happens next?
Well, the early story beats (Intro of Conflict, Call to Adventure, etc) come in the form of Harry finding out about and entering the wizarding world. So, at least for book 1, those are taken care of.
But let's say Rowling knew she wanted to tell a story about a boy who came from a terrible, abusive background, but found these things (again friendship, loyalty, courage) in the magical world. But how would she show these things? How would she illustrate them in the story?
The answer is by creating incidents in the story that show these things. We see Harry meeting friends (Ron, Hermione, Nevel, and others) and also not so friendly kids (like Malfoy). And it's important to see him meet both so he can understand the difference and choose for himself.
We see him display courage against the troll and slowly figure out the mystery of what's happening in the castle's dungeons.
Do you see my point? The events that illustrate the themes discussed in the transformation become your story beats.
It's also important to note that your transformation moment doesn't have to be quite this on-the-nose, unless you want it to be. Your character doesn't have to sit around talking about such broad, universal themes. More than likely, they'll be thinking about thins that are specific to the story.
So, Frodo doesn't think about courage, or doing the right thing, or how even the smallest person can change the course of the future. He's only thinking about whether he's going to take the ring into Mordor or not. And that, of course, is story-specific.
But the audience, as, you know, human beings, inherently understand the themes that play into his conflict and transformation. Those themes become the subtext of the moment.
And the audience. Simply. Gets it.
The transformation works just a tad differently for more plot-driven stories. I talk about those with a few more examples in the podcast. You might want to give it a listen: