Today marks the end of a long chapter in my life, but the chapter was an introduction to the rest of the story. I’m not going to get all mushy and nostalgic on you and reminisce on the good times I had in high school, because I can’t resurrect those moments, no matter how hard I try. I can only learn from them and move on.
But the term “move on” sounds really depressing. And I don’t mean to convey sadness, but in order for a story to truly take unfold, a character has to move. We all want to hear incredible stories of heroes, villains, adventure, and danger, but so often we don’t incorporate those ideas into our own lives.
Imagine if J.R. Tolkien never forced Frodo Baggins to leave the shire. What if he just stayed at home where it was comfortable and died with the ring or rings on his finger and nobody would ever find him. Yeah, that story would have sucked. But he did leave, Frodo rose from what was comfortable and “moved on” to a much grander adventure. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo risks his life to change the way the world worked. More so, he was probably the only one who would have been able to do it.
So, a great story is made when a character leaves comfort to overcome certain death. The problem is, real life doesn’t work that way. Our stories are much more slow, and are littered with small climaxes with even smaller resolutions. Every now and then, we will do something like graduate high school, get married, or have your first child, which all mark major plot points in our story, but are mostly followed by more struggle and conflict.
Today I’m in resolution. My character overcame schoolwork, the temptation to drop out, and the antagonistic teachers to finally accomplish the heavy feat of graduating high school. Now the story is done, that’s why they call it a resolution. The sad thing is, some people hang on to that story for the rest of their lives, never to go on another journey or take an adventure again. Peers of mine are sure to wallow in the mundane until a knight in shining armor or a damsel in distress will swoop them off their feet and call them to action. But then they will be stuck in that story too, and soon the pursuit of their spouse will wear off, and as they reach the resolution and get married, they forget that life is most memorable in the struggle.
I think there are two spots that characters get stuck, both in writing and in real life. First is the inciting incident. In story, you need to make something happen to the character that forces him to get up and do something. In real life, it doesn’t always work like that, we have to force ourselves to get up and move. In order to create story and move your character along, you have to be your own inciting incident. You have to throw yourself into the unknown, get off the couch, and break the routine. If you are anything like me, that’s the toughest part.
The other spot that I think characters get stuck is in the struggle. Our conflict has been introduced, the antagonist defined, and now our character is neck deep in undeniable misfortune. However, this is where our character develops. In life, and in story, it is when the character is about to give up, but chooses not to, that we see the most growth. A timid character finds courage, a jerk gets humbled, or a lonely character finds hope. It’s almost like your eyes have to be fully adjusted to the dark, to the struggle, to be able to make out the light we’ve been ignoring the whole time.
So, what does this have to do with high school? Now that school is under my belt and a full-time job on the horizon, I’m in a comfortable spot. I don’t have to pay rent, I work whenever I want, there is grad money in my bank account, and my friends are all going to school around here. It would be really nice to stick here and enjoy the time. To stay in the shire and forget about my rising action.
However, there is a story out there for me. An adventure to live, a people to save, and a damsel to chase. I need that story, and I want to see my character grow as he pursues it. The story is in front of me, I just have to write it.
Photo Cred goes to the one and only Urbandale High School