The inciting incident is the start of story present. In my case it’s when a high school guidance counselor challenges me to help my special needs daughter through her high school years and I realize I can’t do it without a college education myself.
The origin scene is where my misbelief about not being smart enough to handle college work originates. The origin scene and misbelief started when I myself tried to sign up for college prep courses in high school and was told more or less that I would fail if I attempted college.
Writers need to consider what the key origin scene is that starts the belief in a flaw that is so important to their particular protagonist in the fiction or memoir story they’re trying to tell. The origin scene is where the protagonist’s flaw first comes into play, and it usually happens during childhood, according to Lisa Cron, the creator of the Story Genius method of writing.
A flaw develops in the protagonist’s logic in the origin scene to help the protagonist cope at that particular time in his or her life with the situation at hand.
Why did Victoria believe she wouldn’t succeed in college? In 1973, she brought home the course selections book for high school. Her parents needed to sign off on the courses.
*Rough origin scene, Victoria’s 13 years old:
Dad picked up the folder. “What’s this, Vic?”
He pointed to the curriculum path I chose. College Prep.
I was all smiles. They should be so proud of my choice. Me, the daughter who had so much trouble in school before. Now I was considering college.
“Vic,” he said, “We don’t go to college.” He placed the folder back on the table.
“What?” Can’t just anybody go away to college? I didn’t get it. “Dad.” I looked at my mother. “I want to be a writer.” And an actress, I thought, but I couldn’t tell Daddy that. He already told me that was stupid when I had mentioned it to Mom last year.
“College is for doctors and lawyers,” he said.
That’s all? Really? I was at a loss of what to say. I shook my head. “But all the authors I read about…”
“They must be rich,” he said. “We’re not.” He leaned forward on the table. “There’s no money for college, Vic,” he informed me, in that definitive tone I knew so well. He pushed the folder back to me. “We’re a working class family. Everybody goes to work after high school.” He rose from the table. “At real jobs,” he added.
But why can’t working class people go to college? I felt my dream slipping away. I searched my brain for some proof. “Dad, Betty’s sister wants to be a teacher, and she’s going to college.” I glanced up at him.
He was looking at my mother. Neither one said anything.
“Vic,” Dad said finally. “What makes you think you’re smart enough to do it?”
I felt like it was the middle of summer instead of early spring. I wanted to run outside into the darkness to cool off. Or was it to hide from my past? I struggled so much in school before 6th grade. Mom told me that the school had wanted to hold me back in 3rd grade but Daddy wouldn’t let them. He had worked with me in math for hours after his night shift had finished. Yet I continued to struggle in 4th and 5th grade. But somehow in 6th grade I finally got it, although it took much studying and work on my part.
“Dad,” I said desperately, “I’m on the honor roll now.”
“You need more than that to survive college, Vic. Play it safe. Go to work.” When I didn’t reply, he left the room.
I sat there dumbfounded, trying to make sense of this. My parents didn’t go to college. And neither did my girlfriend’s parents. Mom’s a secretary. And Dad’s a machinist. They have a house and cars. They’re successful. So are my friends’ parents. College isn’t necessary for success. It didn’t matter what other writers had done.
Daddy’s right. If I tried college and failed, I’d embarrass them. And Dad wouldn’t be able to help me this time with math. It’s good to know this now before I have trouble with college prep courses. And even if I did all that work, I wouldn’t have anything to study at college because I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t like blood and guts. And I don’t want to be a lawyer because I’m afraid of the bad guys. And I don’t need to struggle in college and then fail, proving to Dad that I’m not smart enough.
*End of scene.
The origin scene begins a misunderstanding in the protagonist’s life. This misunderstanding must be connected to the main thrust of the story. And the misunderstanding should become a way for the protagonist to save herself from future problems. In my case, the misunderstanding that I’m not college material would save me from failure in life. I needed to choose a more secure path without the need to struggle further in my education.
Does this sound overly dramatic to you? Your insight is always appreciated.
The origin scene’s misunderstanding blooms into the flaw that the protagonist carries around with her for the rest of the story. But remember, to the protagonist, this misconstrued logic shows her how to interpret life so no harm or bad feelings come to her in the future.
Victoria’s father made it clear that doing well in the basic classes does not prepare one for college, in his mind. Victoria needed to be smarter. And she wasn’t. He instilled in her that failure in life is not good. Victoria interpreted this as “don’t attempt anything that you might fail at.” So she stayed away from college until her own daughter wanted the same dream.
Remember that many times, the antagonist’s intentions seem logical to him. They’re from his own life experience. The antagonist, many times, is just trying to help the protagonist.
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