Sunday, July 25, 2010


I've been thinking a lot lately about that moment...that moment in a novel where the protagonist has the "realization" that changes things. I've been thiking about it because it is something I struggle with. Mostly, I worry about whether my main character should have that moment or not.

Life, as most would agree, is full of both moments and non-moments. We do not reflect on our choices of sandwich meat in the deli at the supermarket or on which toothbrush to buy, but we do when choosing a career or a partner in life. I've thought about what it would be like to be a person who is the reverse perhaps, someone who in a Seinfeld sort of way, dwells and sweats of the seemingly small stuff in lieu of the larger life issues.

But, if I'm to write about the moments and non-moments, it only makes sense to me, particularly in trying to write fiction, that an anagnoris is necessary. Aristotle defines "anagnorisis" as a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined for good or bad fortune.

He uses the example of Oedipus but we can clearly see how Shakespeare translated that into Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, even Othello when Othellos himself finally learns of his mistake as it relates to Desdemona's inappropriate relationship. Even modern day stories like Superman when he discovers his weakness is kryptonite or the moment when Luke Skywalker learns that Darth Vader is his father is THAT moment, the moment when suddenly, the main character knows what he is destined for and how what he is destined for is going to change is that moment that I struggle to write or even imagine.

First, it's hard to sufficiently create in my mind that moment at the start. It's something that I find is arrived at through careful storytelling, character development and lots of time spent thinking through the intricacies that make such a moment actually believable.

Second, even if I can sufficiently create that moment in mind, when I arrive at the time when such a realization would make sense, would be expected even, I find myself asking the more basic question: do I want there to be a realization of any sort at all?

Then, I get stuck. I tell myself that a book needs that moment. It needs to have it in order for it to be marketable, interesting, provocative, intelligent, etc. I worry that if I don't have a moment like that, it will look like my writing was lazy or that my thought process was too simple or worse, boring.

But then, I think back to books I've read and enjoyed where I just watched someone live his life. There were no great epiphanies. There was no adventure or secret to discover. It was just me, watching someone live and eat breakfast and drive his car and complain about the mail being late and the way the elevator always get stuck on a certain floor. I think about the everyday slice of life type stories and I think to myself, not that Aristotle had it wrong. I think to myself that this is the kind of story I want to write even if Aristotle was 100% on point.

So...I begin writing and plotting and plotting as I write so that I don't push myself into a moment, a realization that feels contrived or unbelievable. I write in circles and about nothing until finally, I have something. I have a short story. Then I have a novella. After a few chapters more I have a novel. I finish it and I look back at it and you know what I find?

Anagnorisis...smack dab in the middle of my novel...only, it's there because I didn't plan it. It is there and it works, surprisingly and wonderfully, it works. It works because I wrote it by accident. I wrote it by trying to defy Aristotle. I wrote it because even in life the non-moments can be moments. Things DO happen sometimes when we are simply choosing deli-meat. I might be reaching for the same package of corned beef as my nemesis. I might drop the toothbrush I bought into a storm drain on my way to my car, prompting me to meet the man who'd change my protagonist's life. Non-moments are moments, the realizations we are looking for...if only we follow through.

A realization, I now realize, is comrised of a sequence of events...destined events, fate if you will. So maybe Aristotle had it half-right...all stories have this "moment" but it is not just a is a culmination not just an accumulation. Now, I have to start writing toward that end.

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