Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Power of Change


by Dina Sleiman

Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Love in Three-Quarter Time is her second published novel.

Story, at its heart, is about change. The main character begins in his or her “normal world.” They have outward goals, but also a hidden inner need. At some point they are thrust into the “story world” and must face a challenge that will cause them to change, to grow, and discover at least one important truth about life.  As they face conflict in their outer journey, they are forced to take an inner journey, in which they will learn something that will allow them to find the answer to their hidden inner need and come out of the story a stronger and more authentic person.

Whether you are writing a romance, a thriller, a sci-fi, or fantasy novel, these basic principles are the same. In quieter, more literary type novels about typical people with typical lives, the stories tend to take place at some pivotal point in the characters life: a teen who must take on adult responsibilities, a young adult seeking to find their true purpose, a middle-aged character longing to redefine their life, a person facing an illness or life-threatening accident. These sorts of “coming of age” stories carry a powerful emotional depth, although if not well done, they can become slow and challenging to read.

But, if you take a faster moving genre, and infuse into the character’s inner journey all the depth of a “coming of age” type theme, you can create a book that is truly magical. For my first two novels, I went the more literary route, and then infused the stories with action, romance, humor, and adventure.  For my newest book, Love in Three-Quarter Time with Zondervan Publishing, I took the opposite approach.



For this novel, I began (at my agent’s request) with a basic historical romance plot structure.  The primary plot was about the romance. The heroine’s goals included avoiding the hero, as is so typical in this genre. But they also included supporting her family as a dance instructor. You see, my heroine had once been the rich daughter of a plantation owner and the belle of the ball, until tragedy struck her family. She blames herself for this tragedy, and because of it, has repressed her true vibrant and fiery nature. Enter inner journey.  Constance must learn to be her true self again. Due to her outer goal of desiring to support her family, she is forced to face her past, including her ex-fiancĂ©, Robert Montgomery, the man who jilted her when she needed him most.

In this way, the novel has a deep inner journey as well. Constance must learn that God is not out to punish her, that He made her and loves her, that He doesn’t want her to repress her true self, but that He wants her to learn to submit it to Him and allow Him to use her nature for His glory. Only when she makes these inner changes is she able to “waltz” her way into a new life and achieve her goals.

The hero has an inner journey as well, of discovering that he needs God’s help and can’t do things in his own strength. In fact, I have five point of view characters, and each has their own journey, their own character “arc,” as we call it. Each main character undergoes some sort of change.

Which brings us back to my initial point. Story is all about change. If no one changes, you can have a series of events, even a lot of action, but you won’t have a true story. What about the postmodern story structure, a few of you might be asking? The main difference here is that the change is more subtle. The postmodern story lacks that moment of “truth” or “enlightenment” because according to the postmodern paradigm, there is no universal truth. We all make our own truth. Still, I would argue, that even in the postmodern structure, there must be some shift, some discovery, some new sense of awareness, or else the story will not be fulfilling.

So one last time. Story is about change. It is about something going wrong and how the character will face that challenge and learn and grow from it. No matter what genre you write, be sure to include a powerful inner journey to make for a fully rounded story and characters that come to life.

In the book you're writing, what's the big change taking place for your main character? What about your other primary characters?

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In the style of Deeanne Gist, Dina Sleiman explores the world of 1817 Virginia in her novel Love in Three-Quarter Time. When the belle of the ball falls into genteel poverty, the fiery Constance Cavendish must teach the dances she once loved in order to help her family survive. The opportunity of a lifetime might await her in the frontier town of Charlottesville, but the position will require her to instruct the sisters of the plantation owner who jilted her when she needed him most. As Robert Montgomery and Constance make discoveries about one another, will their renewed faith in God help them to face their past and the guilt that threatens to destroy them in time to waltz to a fresh start?

22 comments:

  1. Great post! I'm actually still pretty close to the beginning, so I don't know what the "change" will be yet. At least I know the goals! :)

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  2. Cool. It's great if the inner journey can somehow relate to the outer journey. So maybe by examining the goals, you can start to get ideas for the inner jounrey as well.

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  3. Takes me back to my AP English class, where I realized that for a character to be "dynamic," they must CHANGE. In my next WIP, my heroine's going to have her really big "Aha!" (or in her case, "Oh no!") moment in the first chapter, and the rest of the book will be how she learns to deal with it and eventually trust herself and her newly revived faith. Should be an interesting challenge for me, LOL.

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    1. All right, I'm really looking forward to reading THAT one.

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  4. I always know how my heroine is going to change from early in the processs. But I usually have to figure out my heroes change as I go along. It's good if all the characters are in some way dealing with the same issue. Both of my characters have to learn to open up to hearing from God, Constance to be herself and let go of her guilt. Robbie to give up his pride and stop doing things in his own strength. Both changes reflect the theme of "let God lead your dance."

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  5. This post has given me a lot of good things to think about. Thank you!

    My main character is a teen. She has to realize that God's love matters most. She has to go through different situations and experience different things before that really hits her, but once she learns that, she changes and that change affects the rest of her story. It's still in the 2nd draft stage, so I'm working out some kinks. But overall, that's what's happening.

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  6. Sounds create, Anna. A very important thing to learn.

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  7. The key lesson I hope my book portraits is how we can trust the Lord. My main character's biggest change is when she fully comes to rely on Him. To give Him her worries and cares. Before this, she is constantly scheming and worrying.
    This is such a great post and has given me so much to think about! THANK YOU!

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  8. The big change for my main character. . . . Well, plot-wise, his sister is kidnapped by strange creatures for unknown purposes, and he must go on a mission to rescue her.
    Character-wise, he must learn to trust and love people again, and shed his cold, hard demeanor.

    At least, that's what I'm going for. X) If I can't get it the first try, well, that's what revision is for! ;D

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  9. Leorah, "constantly scheming and worrying" sounds like a great set up for lots of conflict and maybe even some humor :) My heroine is a bit of a schemer too.

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  10. Dakota, sounds interesting, hope it works out for you. Learning to trust is a hard lesson to learn for sure.

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  11. I like you post here! I'm feeling like I'm understanding these things in my head but not so much in my heart that they can come out on paper (or my computer screen :).

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  12. It takes time and practice, Tonya. Be patient with yourself. And as someone mentioned, that's what edits are for.

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  13. Darn....I'm starting to feel like my Characters journey needs more depth :/ her inner journey is to learn how to let people in again. Ever since she was dumped off by her mother when she was seven she has had abandonment issues. Her father gets into a car accident that leaves him paralyzed and then her mother shows back up. I guess you can tell what happens form there lol. but I just hope its not too common...The other character (soon to be love interest) his journey is a little better I hope. He is suppose to learn that he can't do it all alone. (his hidden back story is his parents are dead and he's trying to get his little sisters out of government care.But his problem is he wont trust anyone to help him.Then again, is that too much for just one story?

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  14. I looove books with strong inner character conflict. (A good plot is a bonus, of course.) If the characters are mellow and there's no drastic change....meh. In my fantasy novels, my characters fight it out with revenge, anger, hate, fear, and learning to let go. Throw them all together andd you get some seriously snarky characters ready for word wars. It's fun. ;)

    I LOVE the title of your novel!! Thanks for sharing these tips. Hugely helpful. :D

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  15. Kim, it's hard to judge from one paragraph, but learning to let people in sounds like a valid inner journey. Her hidden need would be to have people love her, even though she doesn't want to let them.

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  16. Thanks, Cait. You know, my least favorite books are ones where there is only outer conflict, and that's fueled mainly by stubborness. I see too many of those in the romance genre.

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  17. Great post! My book is a Dystopian story about a teen girl who's dad is gone and her mom is in bad health. The change in her life is when she gets a perfect score on an important test. She makes several important choices about her future, not all of them good, but they do make great a lot of change in her life. Also, in the beginning of the story, she's convinced that she's strong enough by herself. Her inner journey is growing as a person and knowing when to accept help and embrace humility at times. :)

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  18. My book is a dystopian novel about a teen girl who scores well on an important test, and she leaves the comfort of the new society which she is accepted into to go find her friend who has been exiled, due to not scoring highly enough on the test. This came at the perfect time by the way; right when I'm planning to start my rising action!

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  19. Abigail and Katia, wow, lots of dystopian writers :) Abigail, a change toward humility sounds great. I'm also thinking of Hunger Games, which I'm sure must inspire you guys. Throughout the series she continues to change more and more to be willing to stand up and defend others. The very ending is interesting in that she has a final change even after all the action.

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  20. I find that's often how I rate how much I like books: did the main character not learn anything? Or change very little? Unless there's a sequel, that's usually the cause of any disappointment.

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  21. Yes, that would definitely disappointing. I think when a book really stands out is when several of your characters undergo connected changes.

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