Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the soon-to-be-released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
Advice I've often heard, and that I've probably handed out a time or two, is that you should figure out who you want your main character to be at the end of the book (or series) and begin when they are the opposite.
But what does that really look like?
Because I have two-year-old boy living under my roof, I have seen/read/listened to the story of Cars quite a bit in recent months.
|Connor on Christmas morning with his new "zoom" pillow.|
Cars is a brilliant example of the "start in the opposite place" technique. (Warning: I'm going to talk about the ending of Cars in the post, so if you haven't seen it yet and you don't want it being spoiled for you, don't read this!)
In the beginning of the movie, all Lightning McQueen cares about is winning the Piston cup. He cares about it so much that he's willing to risk it all. He doesn't make pit stops. He doesn't have friends, and no one can handle working on his team because he wants to be a one car show. He'll do anything to get ahead and be sponsored by Dinoco.
In the end, Lightning McQueen is so distracted by the way he left things with Sally, he can't focus on the biggest race of his career. And when he has a chance to win it fair and square, he instead chooses to put on his brakes and go back to help a legendary race car that just crashed. He pushes the car across the finish line, causing Lightning to place last. I get goose bumps every time Lightning says to the King, "I think the King should finish his last race."
The bookends in this movie - the original Piston cup race and the rematch at the end - are a brilliant way to showcase the change that takes place in Lightning over the course of the movie.
Here are several things to keep in mind as you try to apply this to your stories:
The reader still has to like your main character.
The trickiest thing with the whole, "start in the opposite place" technique is that your reader still has to want to go along for the ride. How did the team at Pixar take care of this in Cars? This is just my opinion, but I think a few traits endear us to Lightning McQueen:
- He's a winner. We like winners.
- He's an unexpected winner, this is his rookie season. The only thing we like more than regular winners are dark horse winners.
- He's funny. Humor makes up for a lot.
It can be external circumstances too.
What about a story like Cinderella, where the main character doesn't change much? Sometimes those "opposite endings" can work in the form of external circumstances too. The story of Cinderella begins with Cinderella as a cheerful, song-singing girl who has been reduced to a servant in her own home. The story ends with her as a cheerful, song-signing princess riding away in a carriage.
Take a look at your work-in-progress and ask yourself:
Who do I want my main character to be at the end?
In light of that, who should he/she be at the beginning?
If you want, share your answers with us in the comments section!