“Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters. Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome. Terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.” ― Alan Cohen
I have an attachment to the idea (and act) of transformation, but I’m no different than anyone else; I don’t magically take my negative experiences and turn them into insight right away. In fact, writing is one of the major ways by which I make my way through anything challenging that happens to me. It’s as Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
And then, while I “process” in my journal just for me, ultimately I have to translate my experiences into fiction, to massage and stretch them into shapes that give me satisfaction. Where else do you get to take such liberties? There’s something about repositioning events into a matrix of order–a plot structure–that lends clarity to those often befuddling experiences of real life.
I will admit that if a book doesn’t take me to a place of possible transformation, of discovery, whether via the characters’ or the theme or content of the book–if it doesn’t let me walk that line of “scared/scared” as Alan Cohen states above–for the most part, it doesn’t hold my attention. And this doesn’t make me a snob. I’ve read amazing genre fiction that takes me there as well as literary fiction that doesn’t.
Five tips for writing transformative fiction:
- An imperfect protagonist: your character must have somewhere to go, something to learn, a state of being or discovery to work toward
- Mettle-testing odds or stakes: Whatever your character’s story, in order to transform him or her, you must put them in a situation that presses them to the edge of their being. In other words, you can’t go easy on them.
- Striving, longing, ambition, desire: Your character will not be motivated to transform if she is not pulled on by larger forces inside herself. If she is a passive player in your story, there’s a lot less chance for transformation. Your character must have an inner fire of want.
- Loss: I’m convinced that all truly great transformation occurs through loss. And that loss can be of either material things/people, or ideas/illusions. When a reality is changed or pulled out from under them, they have the possibility of great transformation.
- A worthy goal: In order to write fiction that transforms, your character must want something worth having, the big things: love, comfort, wisdom, faith in one of many thousands of incarnations.