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Change Is The Only Constant

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

One writing principle many writers prefer is this: Before starting, know your ending.

This structural approach captures the essence of story: Change.

Change by nature generates conflict, and conflict is the lifeblood pumping through your story.

Characters change because of the conflict they face.

And great stories are all about fascinating journeys through conflict resulting in permanent change.

If the situation, the character, the issue has not morphed or grown or evolved between the covers of your book, if nothing really changed, then no story really happened.


Permanent Change

At the end, the bad guy is defeated. The hero is finally whole. Things are permanently different.

That means the hero was probably not whole at the start. They were incomplete. Broken. Flawed.

So what are they missing? What about them is damaged? What can't they see about themselves that is hurting them?

Clue #1 for the start: demonstrate how the hero lives an incomplete existence.

And don't forget, the blind spot they suffer from at the start WILL DEFEAT THEM IN THE END if they don't overcome it in time (something the villain knows well, and is counting on).

That's what the very best stories do.

The character's inward journey is not just for emotional connection; it instills sufficient enlightenment or courage or empathy necessary for them to overcome their flaw, evolving - permanently - into a more complete person in order to win the day.


Major Change

In the classic three-act structure, the end of the story also happens to be the end of Act III.

That tells you a lot about how Act III should begin. Different enough so that the act captures a major change.

The end of Act II is in opposition to the middle of Act II - a major change must occur.

The middle of Act II is in opposition to the beginning of Act I - a major change must occur.

The end of Act I is in opposition to the beginning of Act I - a major change must occur.

And there you are, clue #2: follow the pendulum back from the end to see how the story should begin.

Act III ends on the up. Act III then starts on the down. Mid-Act II then starts on the up. Act II then starts on the down. Act I then starts on the up.

Clue #3 is to see how these two work together, the double-helix of structure and character. The right character at the right time gets caught up in the right events that bring about the right opportunity for that character to learn and grow and evolve into someone new.

Once you know how to start, and you can point toward your end, then reverse the flow.

Change is the delta between who the character is at the start and who they are at the end.

Don't try to write permanent changes, or even major ones. That's neither fun nor productive.

Characters only change a little at a time.

Just like you and me. We don't wake up one day and have it all figured out.

We have to connect the dots, one at a time.


The Beat

Beats are the dots you want to connect. Three beats per chapter ever so gently denotes a minor change.

That's not a rule, just a guideline. Could be five. Or seven. I prefer odd numbers of beats; they just feel right.

The character works through a series of decisions, faces an ever-toughening obstacle, or has to commit further to a course of action.

The chapter ends with the character saying or doing something, thinking a new way, or feeling differently than they expected at the beginning.


Minor Change

The job of each chapter is not only to entertain, but to move the story ever closer to its conclusion.

The beats add up to a minor change, typically denoted by a chapter break.

Again, if the character is exactly the same at the end of the chapter as they were at the beginning, nothing happened.

Minor changes are just that - small shifts, little course corrections, compromises or changing one's mind that, when viewed all together, accumulate to moderate and major changes that define the story.


Moderate Change

A series of chapters - two, three, or four - is called a "sequence" and marks the moderate shifts necessary to bring about major changes.

Sequences are less obvious when writing and less necessary to consciously adhere to, structurally; however, you may notice that your writing rhythm naturally wants to follow a pace somewhere between scene and act.

Go with it.


Working backward from the end is a wise way to map out your story before you begin.

Working backward allows for freedom and creativity throughout the journey while keeping you on track toward a compelling, and conclusive, destination.

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