We seek stories about inner journeying and change. Even if in
the end the character realizes she cannot change we are fascinated
by the struggle, and the acceptance of a new understanding. Jewish
writers especially, I think have a responsibility to bring value
into our stories through showing the real struggles of a character's
moral, spiritual,and pschychological issues.
One of the basic rules of story writing, fiction or non-fiction,
is that the main characters are well rounded. Which means among
other things that they change. To honestly reflect life, though,
we must create changes that are believable. In real life, changes
are slow, especially deep changes. These give the readers the
Because we are so anxious to bring a message to our readers, much
of the religious literature expresses character change too superficially.
We sometimes make grandiose changes with only one or two proddings.
We make 'out of character' changes. And we leave the reader disappointed
and not quite believing us.
How do we change in real life? Usually we feel a lack, or some
kind of threat, or we suffer. If it's not hurting enough, usually
we make some feeble attempt to make it go away. We look outside
ourselves and try to find someone or something to blame. Or if
we do sense that we have something to do with the problem, we
are afraid to look inside and so we find some means of escape,
which basically causes more problems. (E.g. A favorite old time,
eating too much.) When the problem goes on, or intensifies we
try to do something, often dealing with the problem externally.
When the pain does not let up, finally we begin to look inside,
and often discover habits or patterns that need working on. If
we do begin working on them, we go back and forth for a while,
and usually make the changes in the most obvious places. And so
Of course, we can't represent life in it's full slow process,
that would be too boring for a story. We have to learn to cut
the process down to a few steps which we will do by the end of
One more condition that is vital for expressing change is that
it has to be shown through action. (Very similar to Jewish Hashkafa...)
Otherwise the reader does not really believe, or feel the change.
Showing is believing. The change can be a small one on the outside,
but if we have covered the struggle effectively, a small act is
enough to express a big change on the inside.
In order to understand these points better, we will discuss a
familiar story from the Torah.
The following exercises will be helpful in developing the structure
of your story. (With some self-discovery thrown in too.)
A. Think of some way that you have changed. If you find this difficult
look back at yourself five, ten, twenty years ago. Think of a
certain way you used to feel about something, such as marriage,
children, work, religion, G-d, money, anger, love, etc. Now think
of a decision or action you've recently made that shows you have
changed your attitude. How do you see it now? Write down the before
and after, and the action or choice that shows the change.
B. Now go back and think of the things that occurred in your life
that slowly brought about the change. Try to start at the beginning.
What were the first occurrences that started you on taking another
look at your attitude?
C. Go slowly, listing as many memories that come to mind, that
seem connected to the issues. The order is not so important yet.
Just try to tap into and list the events. Leave a space of two
lines below each event.
D. How would you outline each step in a few words e.g. Loss of
job, physical illness, meeting someone with a similar problem,
are some of the agents that help us to change.
If you are writing a story, or memoir, this list can be very helpful
in giving you an idea of how slow change is, and of what kind
of things help bring it about. As I said before, in a story we
are not interested in every step of the way. Below is a general
outline of what steps are generally important to keep in.
1: Normal life
2: Problem, conflict, lack, or a call is presented
3: Resistance to change
4: Intensification of no. 2
5: Beginning of change, usually superficial
6: More pain
7: Decision to change and\or action
8: Obstacles in the path (A few of these make for good tension)
9: Major action that shows change
10: Coming back full circle-how normal life has been affected
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