In fiction or memoir, the story needs to be about the protagonist taking the reader through an arc of change and letting the reader feel that experience, feel that change within the protagonist. Writers need to remember that the internal story arc of change for the protagonist, the transformational arc, needs to unfold slowly, scene by scene, and it needs to be interpreted for the reader through the protagonist’s thoughts.
But in order for the writer to construct a story to change the protagonist, the writer needs to understand how the protagonist interprets her story world. That’s where the origin scene comes in. Remember the origin scene from a prior blog post? The origin scene is where the protagonist’s misbelief about the world is born. This is a misbelief about how the world works according to the protagonist. This guides the protagonist’s life from the moment it happens—the actual origin scene—according to Lisa Cron in her Story Genius course.
In memoir, the protagonist is you the writer. You need to think:
How am I going to show one explicit arc of change in the protagonist’s memoir story?
Think what particularly is Victoria’s arc of change in her college memoir?
Victoria begins the memoir believing that if you struggled in school, you’re not smart enough for college because her father said as much in the origin scene when she attempted to sign up for college prep courses in high school.
As a writer, I need to show the protagonist’s change from someone who doesn’t believe that she can handle college—because she’s unprepared and inadequate—to someone who does in fact graduate from an Ivy League university. I need to show the daily struggles with fear and doubt—and what they mean to the protagonist—through scenes in the memoir.
In order to do this, writers need to set the place, the time, and the context of each scene moving forward. Scenes need to be specific. Writers can’t simply focus on what happens externally in the story. We’ve got to let the reader know what our protagonist is thinking as she reacts, internally, to everything that happens in the story according to Cron. And we need to help the reader understand why our characters are thinking and believing what they do. We need to put the character’s inner struggle right on the page so readers can experience her internal conflict themselves.
The misbelief needs to be at the forefront of the internal struggle in the story. Backstory scenes need to reinforce Victoria’s misbelief; scenes that show her feelings of fear and doubt and inadequacy that if she went to college she would surely fail. My blogpost about backstory can be found here.
A few backstory scenes to reinforce Victoria’s misbelief could be:
A scene with a college-bound high school friend where the friend tries to explain her science classwork to Victoria and Victoria is completely lost, believing her father correct. She could never understand the subject material.
Note: Victoria comes to realize, as she struggles through college herself, that she needs to be taught the subject matter visually to be able to understand.
After the birth of her first baby, Victoria discovers that a fellow secretarial student friend from high school graduates from community college. Victoria interprets this as her friend probably didn’t struggle in school. She was simply smarter than Victoria.
Victoria fails the math portion of the College Entrance Exam.
However, to chip away at her struggle to believe she can succeed at college, Victoria learns that the college offers basic skills math courses to help her build a math foundation.
Another scene that chips away at Victoria’s misbelief is when the Phi Theta Kappa advisor informs her that she should apply for All U.S.A. and All New Jersey Community and Junior College Academic Team awards. The professor believes in Victoria, but Victoria is more worried about what would happen if she won the awards.
Fear, doubt, and inadequacy in my particular memoir story can manifest themselves as inferiority or even feeling like an imposter. When I attended the University of Pennsylvania, I didn’t feel like a real Ivy Leaguer. I felt like I didn’t belong.
*As before, please offer any insight or comments you may have about my college memoir. Thank you! *
Lisa Cron states that the protagonist’s “aha moment” comes near the end of the novel. It is when she finally overcomes her misbelief. This is where your novel makes its point. I’ll talk about the “aha moment” in the next post.
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