Monday, May 19, 2014

In Fiction or Real Life, Did One Thing Change Everything?



Recently, a colleague of mine was coaching the African author of an autobiography, trying to draw out the significant life events that would most interest and capture the attention of his intended American audience. She knew his walk had been eventful and complex, full of challenging experiences most Americans never face. But an autobiography can only be so long (at least in volume one!), and zeroing in on what is most noteworthy is often the first step in determining the primary focus for telling any story.

At one point, however, she wasn't so much interested in what was merely noteworthy from this man. She had a hunch there was something more . . . something well worth allowing it to drive the telling.

“What was the thing,” she asked, “that changed everything?”

Was that brilliant or what?

Because if he experienced one thing that did indeed change everything for him (and he immediately knew what it was), there was the story. No matter what that event or experience was, she knew it was not only the most significant part of his story but that it had probably affected everything that happened in his life afterward. 

Not everyone has a life experience so pointed that they can build a compelling autobiography around it. (I haven’t.) But what about you? Did one thing change everything, making such a difference in the trajectory of your life that you can point to it without hesitation? 

As a reader, what’s an example in a book or article you have recently read where the subject or character experienced one thing that changed everything? What was it?

As a writer, have you focused on or crafted one thing that changes everything in the life of your subject or character? If so, how did that affect your writing?

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