Article of the Month
 
 


Opening with the Ordinary World
c. 2005 by Alicia Rasley


 






 
 

Why is the first scene important?  Well, because if the editor doesn't
like it, she'll stop reading. :)

Beyond that, the first scene should do a lot for the reader.  It
should both establish the current situation and set up the need for
change. It should be intriguing, drawing the reader in and giving her
reason to keep reading.  It should give a hint of the coming conflicts,
and maybe a starting point for the theme. It should introduce the main
character and the setting in a way that both explains and entices-- that
is, you want to give just enough information that the reader is intrigued
but not confused.

But too often, first scenes are either jammed full of so many details the
reader gives up.... or generic, like a dozen other opening scenes she's
read.

That's probably a good reason to write the first scene to get it over
with, write the rest of the book, and then go back and rewrite that first
scene. :)  We're probably unlikely to get it right before we completely
know the characters and situation.

So... there are lots of different ways to start a book. But I'm going to
riff off a popular one, the Chris Vogler idea of the Ordinary World. Now
I don't always agree with Vogler-- or rather, I don't assume that what
works for film will automatically translate for a novel.  But he's
performed a useful service by "writer-izing" Joseph Campbell's work
analyzing myths over the ages and finding the common elements.  (The
myths used are mostly quest myths with young men as heroes. I'm not going
to get into this, because it's SO not my field, but some romance fiction
analysts think that romance is based on the fairy tale model, not on
myth, which is more masculine.)

Anyway.... The Ordinary World is a place to start, both for us as writers
and our heroes and heroines.  So let's look at how we can use the notion
of the Ordinary World to help us craft a good first scene.

Vogler says, " Ordinary World:  "The Hero's home, the safe haven upon
which the Special World and the Journey's outcome must be compared."

Now that's quite a useful definition.  Only of course I'm going to mess
it up a bit.  The Ordinary World might or might not be home, might or
might not be a "safe haven".  After all, if your heroine is an undercover
cop imbedded for a year in a gang of drug dealers, her ordinary world isn't very safe at all.  But it is the world that she's living in when the story
opens.  It's not necessarily safe, but it's probably what the character
is used to... knows how to deal with.  The same cop heroine who is able
to deal with murderous drug cartel lords with aplomb might two weeks
later find herself all cleaned up and attending the police chief's dinner
party in a gated community, and here she is, surrounded by cops in dress
uniform, in a wealthy and crime-free area... and she's terrified, because
here comes the police chief's snooty wife....

The point is that the Ordinary World (OW) is the place where this
character has been spending a lot of time... and she can handle it okay.
Knows how to get around.  It doesn't have to be ordinary in OUR
estimation.  But we probably need to show it's ordinary more or less for
this character.

Oh-- we'll get back to this-- but the OW might or might not seem safe and
comfortable.  But no matter what, there's something wrong with it.  Got
to be.  The protagonist has to leave it, after all.  There's something in
the Special World (what happens in the plot) that is going to change the
protagonist-- a challenge which doesn't exist in the OW.  The protagonist
HAS to change-- it's just what fiction is about, right?  So it would not
be good just to hang there in the  OW.  No matter how happy she is there,
no matter how well he succeeds, the OW is lacking something, something
that the protagonist needs for growth.

So keep that in mind as we explore what the Ordinary World means as both a setting and a situation.

First, some questions:
Let's start out by identifying the Ordinary World the protagonist lives
in (choose either hero or heroine for a romance-- whichever your book
starts with).  So Identify and Explore.

Now it could be you start the book somewhere other than what you consider
his/her OW. Okay-- I want that too.

1)  Protagonist's Ordinary World. Describe.  What is lacking here for the
protagonist, whether he/she knows it or not?

2)  Where I actually start the book, if different.

3) The Special World the plot is going to take the protagonist to.
Describe.  How can you show early on that it's going to pose a challenge
to the protagonist?
 

A couple caveats, of course.  The Ordinary World isn't just a place. It
might not even be a place at all.  A heroine who travels a lot on
business might have a home with a mailbox back in Tulsa, but her real
ordinary world is really the series of anonymous hotel rooms she inhabits
on the road.

Also keep the OW small.  It's not New York City, it's a street in Little
Italy.  It's not Renaissance France, it's the court of the French king.

Also the Special World might be geographically in the same place as the
Ordinary World... but it's changed because something else has changed.
For example, a boy's Ordinary World might be his high school, full of
jocks and bullies.  He might enter a Special World in that high school
when he joins the staff of the student newspaper-- the Special World is
the milieu of scoops and energetic reporters and cameras slung around the
neck.

So... I'll start.

1)  Carrie's Ordinary World is the old lake cottage where she grew up-- a
world of grandmothers and great aunts, of pea-shelling and genteel
poverty in the midst of plenty.  It's a place where respectability and
conformity is prized and everyone is terrified that they could lose what
little they have if they're not "good" enough.  The cottage is old and
smells a bit musty when she first enters every day after school.  But as
she gets closer to the old ladies in the kitchen and on the screened
porch, she smells their Emeraude perfume and their powder and the bread
they're baking and the clean flat smell of the lake outside.

What's lacking is, uh, men. :)  Actually, this is a women's haven. All
these women have lost (or never had) their husbands in one way or
another.  The world outside is full of men-- wolves who want to seduce
Carrie, bankers who want to foreclose on their home, straying husbands,
sons who send a birthday card rather than visit, serial murderers, guys
who can only talk about football.  :)  But even the old ladies understand
that Carrie has to marry, preferably someone rich and kind who also lives
on the lake and won't take her far away.

Carrie is restless for change, for adventure.... and her Ordinary World
is walled against that.  It's a fortress against change.  If she wants
something new, she has to leave the cottage behind.

2) It actually starts right there on the screened porch, so it starts
with the OW.

3) The Special World is manifested in the country club across the lake,
where all the rich "summer people" go to have dinner and dance after a
day on the water.  It's glittering and glamorous. People dress up. Carrie
needs a new dress just to go to the first summer party.  And she's
uncomfortably aware that she doesn't fit. But the Special World
challenges her to find courage within, from her own resources and not the
familiar strength of home and family.  She lifts up her chin and crosses
the dancefloor and asks the shy young man to dance.

 Keep in mind that we often need a "before" picture so that there's a starting point to her character journey. That is, if she starts out afraid to make a scene, for example, you might show her enjoying herself at a dinner party and someone makes a racist joke, and she wants to respond angrily, but tells herself not to make a scene.  So her ordinary world, we learn, is somewhere that she doesn't want to disrupt.  So we know she has morals/ethics, but not great conviction, and that "comfort and stability" matter more in her Ordinary World than other values.

Action Openings and the Ordinary World

Now let's say you want to start with action, to clue the reader in that this is an action-oriented book. The last thing you want, you say, is to start with some boring Ordinary World scene.

Action-opening is more important in some books than in
others.  Plot-driven books often start with action because it's a signal
to the reader to "hang on for the ride"!

In a character-driven book, the character needs to be established pretty
quickly, and so that's of paramount importance.  You can definitely
establish a character by action--  think of the heroine about to jump out
of an airplane, laughing, joking about her parachute, and then she jumps.
That's action, but we also learn right away that the character is a
risk-taker who uses humor to overcome bad feelings like fear.

So the first question is, what is the action and what does it say
specifically and uniquely about your protagonist?  (In a thriller or
other plot-driven book, the initial action might not even involve the
protagonist, so it really matters what type of book you're writing.)

But even when you start with action, fairly quickly you do probably want
to anchor this initial scene in a world and a character.  So what is
that? Who is that?  And how quickly can you show that?

After all, the action doesn't happen in a vacuum. It happens -somewhere-
to -someone-.  Who is that someone? Where is she, and why is she there,
and why is this happening to her? You don't need to show it all right
away, but the reader is going to interpret that action as meaning
something specific about this person-- will "translate" it into a
character, probably.

Think of the famous opening line:  The last camel died at noon.

Okay, we know we're probably in the desert.  Probably in Arabia.  It's
day, and hot, and we're not sure who the protagonist is, but he/she is in
big trouble!

We also know whoever this is is the person who decided to cross the
desert without sufficient camelry during the day.  So.. probably not a
Bedouin. Probably someone out of her/his depth.  A very willful tourist?
An escapee from a kidnapping?

What you'll usually see in books that start with action is a paragraph or
so either at the beginning or right at some crucial moment in the action
which sets the situation. For example, let's try:

The last elephant died at midnight, crashing over into the jungle
underbrush and shaking the ground around Sue.

Okay, one sentence, what do we know?  We're not in Kansas. :)  It's a
jungle. Sue is in big trouble.

Then-- She extricated her medical kit from the basket on the elephant's
side and started mentally composing an email to Tom.  "Tom--" she would
type, if she ever again saw a keyboard, "wish you were here. Wish you
hadn't just enticed me away from my thriving practice with the promise of
untold spiritual benefits to the medical missionary.  Wish you had also
managed to come too.  Wish you were the one almost getting smashed by a
dying elephant and almost getting devoured by the largest mosquitoes in
the world. Wish you were the one trekking -- what did you call it? A few
pleasant miles to the native clinic?  Hope you are enjoying life back
home in Chicago-- and I hope someone has taken a tire iron to your BMW!"

That's what I call "an establishment paragraph".  What's been
established? She's on a medical mission. She's from Chicago.  She's a
physician. She feels tricked into this by  Tom.  What's her ordinary
world?  A thriving medical practice with internet access back in the
states... but also perhaps a bit of a spiritual yearning, else why would
she have come here?

You'll see that kind of paragraph usually fairly early in the first
scene.  Sometimes they actually go back to the ordinary world time --
before the action.  Like that might be--

It had all sounded so spiritually uplifting when Tom and she were sitting
at the sidewalk cafe over the Chicago River, drinking wine and trading
stupid-patient stories.  Tom had stopped in the middle of an anecdote
about yet another supermodel who wanted bigger lips-- no, not the lips on
her face-- and he said suddenly, "You know, in one week at the Mitronesia
clinic, I felt more like a doctor than I do in a year here.  That was real medicine. That was about saving lives.  Here, I give botox injections. There, I fixed cleft palates so that babies could eat enough to survive.  I reset badly broken bones, so that working men could work again.  You should try it, Sue."

So sometimes you'll see an actual flashback after the action-- but
there's usually some establishment of who this person was BEFORE the
action.

Or the action itself might establish who she is and what she ordinarily
does.

For example, Another shot rang out, this one almost grazing his ear.
Johnny dove for cover behind a weatherbeaten shed, and as he
automatically reloaded his weapon, squinting out into the darkness at the
shadowy rows of corn, he muttered, "I'm getting too old for this."

The action actually -shows- his ordinary world-- a place or situation
where he must be frequently in danger.

It depends a lot, actually, on what the praxis, or action of the plot, is going to be. What's going to change during this story? If it's about a family's psychological drama when Dad has a stroke, then physical action might not be the place to start-- because you want to show the "before" of the family to contrast with the "after".

Or if it's a small-town cozy mystery, you want to show what the small
town is like BEFORE.

And in a romance, you might want to show the heroine or hero in
interaction with other people and their environment before love comes and
whaps them upside the head.

But you can show this through action-- it's just it needs to be action
that shows what you want to show. :)
 

Making the Ordinary World a Place to Be
Now another aspect to consider about your opening is anchoring the scene
in the setting, in the environment or world that the character begins in.
This can be the Ordinary World, a place, a setting.

The first reason that this is important is that the reader needs to build
a "picture" for the story, or at least that first scene.  The character
isn't floating out there in space, disconnected from reality, but exists
within some setting and time.  So for the reader to create a sense of
context, there should be some pretty concrete details that make this seem
like a physical reality

Now you can do this by actually describing the setting (in a kind of
omniscienty way), with a big overview perspective to describe the
setting, for example, in a way that none of the characters would do:
----------
Amity Harbor, the island's only town, provided deep moorage for a fleet
of purse seiners and one-man gill-netting boats. It was an eccentric,
rainy, windbeaten sea-village, downtrodden and mildewed, the boards of
the buildings bleached and weathered, their drainpipes rusted a dull
orange.                        David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars
-----------------

This description comes not from any character, nor from an all-seeing
god-of-the-book, but rather from, well, the air, a friendly background
briefing, so to speak. This is often a good way  to establish a sense of
the setting and introduce the characters, before descending into a
particular viewpoint.

But it shouldn't be just any setting. What's unique about this place?
Notice he starts out by saying it's the island's ONLY town, which
establishes right away its uniqueness.  He states its purpose in the
world (deep moorage), and then some kind of physical yet somehow
emotional concrete detail-- eccentric, weatherbeaten, weathered boards,
downtrodden, rusty. See how he mixes "emotion" and "physical" words?
There's a real place there--can you see it?  All that's needed is for a character to walk onto the weathered boards of the dock.

But you can also start by filtering the world in deeper viewpoint, through the -experience- of the protagonist. That is, the character's perceptions of the world give it the shape and heft of reality.

For example:
        Sheri walked down the sun-dappled sidewalk to Main Street,
counting her blessings.  How many new graduates of a teaching college got
exactly the job they wanted (third grade, small town public school) right
away?  And in just the right town too-- Waybridge, Virginia.  For a
Yankee (because that's what they called her here, although she was from
just across the state line in Maryland), Waybridge was right out of a
Eudora Welty novel, so civilized and quaint in that Southern way.
        She stopped in front of the dry goods store and turned slowly to
see it all-- the pretty stone courthouse ringed by a square of green, the DeSotos and Plymouths parked nearby, the laughing children playing in the Neptune fountain, the prosperous brick storefonts all around, the windows reflecting the golden afternoon sun, the mix of people on the sidewalks-- a lawyer in a seersucker suit nodding as he passed her, a farmer in overalls humming as he loaded feedsacks into his old pickup truck, an elderly Negro woman in her
going-to-town best murmuring "pardon" as she squeezed past Sheri to the
the dry-goods store door.
        And Sheri took a deep breath of the cool air down from the
mountains. This was exactly what she wanted-- a job teaching adorable
little children in a serene place with happy people.
----
When you're filtering through the POV character's experience, look to see
how you can sneak in details that will help the reader figure out where
and when.  For example, Sheri refers to "the elderly Negro woman", which
is a signal that this takes place in the past, because she uses "Negro"
rather than "black" or "African-American".  (We can also sense that she's
from the North, for at that time, a respectable southern woman might have
said "colored".)  But she could also maybe have seen the "Packard"
driving up the street, or the Meet the Beatles album in the window of the
store, or some other detail that anchors this pretty firmly in 1963 or
so.

Also see how much physical stuff about the setting you can sneak in
there-- "sneak in" means do it unobtrusively as possible, say in
modifiers ('sun-dappled") or in prepositional phrases ("of the cool
air").  Don't overdo, of course-- what would SHE notice?  Would she
notice the sound of the farmer's boots on the pavement?  Would she smell
the new-mown grass of the courthouse lawn?  You do not need to put in all
five senses, but think about what this character would take note of-- and
slide that in.

Most important, of course, is what this says about the character.  Sheri
wants to believe this is a perfect town full of happy people.  She's sort
of starry-eyed. (You just know we're setting her up for a reality check!)

Now the important thing to remember here is that you do not want to
confuse the reader.  She's going to come into this with very little
context, so she'll be trying to visualize this as well as figure out
what's going on.  So you might go back and edit to make sure you're
sending the right signals.  Like you don't want her walking -away- from
Main Street and then be downtown, as Main Street usually leads downtown.
And be careful not to introduce too many names-- names indicate that this
character is going to recur later and be of some importance, so the
reader subconsciously tries to file the names away. Don't overload the
reader's "address book" with extraneous names.  It would be confusing,
for example, if Sheri named all those people she saw downtown ("Mr.
Lewis, the attorney... Joe Armstrong, the farmer").  Now that might be
fine later in the book or even later in the scene-- but the first few
paragraphs, the reader is trying to build a world, and you don't want to
give her nails and boards she can't use.

So here's a little checklist for the very opening:

1. Is it clear in the first few paragraphs where we are? That is, are we
outside in the parking lot, or inside the executive dining room? Just a
few words ("Out in the empty parking lot") might be enough to anchor the
scene in the setting.

2. Will the reader know what time of day is it? You can state this right
out: "It was 3 am before Tom tracked his brother down in a rickety bar
perched on the end of the city pier." Or you can use physical details to
clue the reader in: "She shielded her eyes against the afternoon light."

3. Is it clear whose POV are we in? If you start in an omniscient
viewpoint, when do you descend into a personal viewpoint? How do you
establish this POV character's goal/agenda for the scene, or state of
mind or emotional condition?

4. Remember, the scene is a unit of change– something changes during the
course of the scene. Do you have some "before" situation established, or
are we at the beginning or in the middle of some event of change? For
example, is the heroine about ready to go into a job interview or visit
her mother in jail, or is she halfway through her truckdriver's exam when
a tire blows out? We need some glimpse of what the situation was like
before in order to put the change-to-come into context.

5.  And don't forget this opening sets up the beginning point of the
emotional arc.  Where does the POV character start out emotionally? How
do you establish it?

6.  Hardest question-- is this the best place to start?  I tend to write
around until I find the real scene opening, which might be where the
action starts, or just before some big change, or when two people meet,
or whatever.  That's fine-- however we find our way is okay. But my
problem is-- I'm not good at cutting all that intro material that isn't
really needed!  So I'm trying to start the scene as late as possible, and
putting all the transitional/positioning stuff (time, place, situation)
in a paragraph or so as the action starts.  Spending a couple minutes
thinking about what the real opening should be saves me far more in
writing time.

Situation and the Ordinary World

Now the final aspect of the ordinary world is what I call "the
situation"-- what is like this now but is going to change.  A small town
is still going to be a small town, after all, once the plot events have
happened.  But maybe it starts out with an old man as mayor, and ends up
with a young woman.  Maybe several storefronts on the square are
shuttered up, and at the end of the book, someone has opened a fabric
store in one of them.  Maybe this is in a boarding school, and a kid is
being bullied, and by the end of the book, he's no longer being bullied.

Maybe the ordinary world is an office with five employees, and by the end
one has been fired and one has quit.

What will change?

(Now this will not apply to all books. But if you are going to start with
an ordinary world and put the character in it, this is a way to figure
out what the conflict could be.)

The situation should somehow involve the character and challenge the
character to deal with it.

Think about this world.  What is a central issue that maybe everyone is
keeping quiet about, but is the issue that might cause change, or needs
to change.

For example, here's this elite boarding school and parents are spending
huge amounts to send their boys there, thinking the boys are getting a
moral and intellectual education.  But what the boys know and can't tell
their parents is that there is one schoolmaster who encourages bullying
by the older students because he thinks it builds character.  So
"bullying" is an issue, and that's something maybe the new French teacher
is going to encounter-- that in this ivy-colored rich-kids place, some
kids are getting harassed.

Now how does this challenge him, the French teacher?  Maybe he's a
reverse snob.  He doesn't want this job-- he'd rather be teaching in an
urban public school, but he doesn't have the right credentials for that,
so he has to teach in a private school where his native French accent is
prized over his lack of a degree.  And he starts out feeling secretly
scornful of these kids who have everything, who never have to worry about
anything because their rich parents will fix life for them.  And this
blind spot, this prejudice, is challenged when one student confesses to
him that he thinks his ribs are broken... by one of the bullies.  Or he
overhears the schoolmaster talking about how they all need to toughen up,
so they should all learn boxing-- the little ones against the big ones.
But once that happens, he's not going to be able to retreat to his comfy
prejudice about rich kids, right?  And maybe he'll have to do something.
 

So when you establish an Ordinary World, you're showing a Before Picture
of the protagonist's world, what it's like before the plot events change
things.  But the protagonist is going to change too, due to the same set
of events.  So the opening scenes might show not only the situation that
needs change, but how the protagonist also maybe needs change too. (And,
of course, the same set events are going to change both. :)

But the reader isn't going to enjoy the change much if the "before" isn't
shown in those early scenes.  So... show the protagonist going through
Ordinary Life in the Ordinary World maybe-- and this can be very short!--
and show the "need for change" or the "opportunity for growth", also
known as the issue of conflict.

Now that won't be identical for the world and the person. For example, my
young Yankee public school teacher (for some reason, I'm using teachers
as protagonists! :) who has moved to the quaint town in the south?  Well,
I'm going to show that in 1963 even the quaintest of southern towns had a
need to change around the issue of racism or segregation.  But that's not
Sheri's issue. She's not a racist. She loves all children of any color--
she just wants a chance to teach. HER issue is that she starts out
without the courage of her convictions. She doesn't like racism, but more
than that, she's afraid of causing a scene and getting people mad at her.
She's like so many liberal thinkers of the time, intellectually and even
emotionally in favor of civil rights, but also worried about "rocking the
boat".

Okay, here's what I see as the difference between the initiating event
and the emergence of the conflict.  You can have a small example of
"what's wrong" in the first scene, something that might not seem huge at
the time but in retrospect, sets things in motion.  Later, maybe in the
second or third scene, you might have the uncontrovertible emergence of
conflict-- something that can't be ignored or minimized.  But in the
opening scene, you might want the foreshadowing of conflict by showing in
some smaller way the intersection of the World's issue and the
protagonist's.

Now this is a slower opening than you might want in a thriller or
adventure book. But romances often open more slowly because the internal
journey of the protagonists is so important.  In fact, any book that
centers on character change-- where a major plot is about how this person
changes-- probably benefits from a slightly slower opening, so that the
reader can get to know the character in the "before" situation and
aspect, before everything changes.

So you  might show them on the -brink of change-- not already immersed in
the change.  They are not all they ought to be. They might be -- here at
the beginning of their journey-- just a shadow of what they are meant to
be.

In fact, as Victoria Meredith says in analyzing a Star Trek episode,
"Being one's own Shadow is one of the hallmarks of the (Ordinary) World
of Common Day. Most Heroes begin their Journey trapped by their negative
aspects. The Journey is the Hero's movement away from his Shadow self and
all that represents for him."

Vogler talks about the "call" and the "refusal of the call", that is, an
early incident where the protagonist declines to get involved.  I don't
think this is completely necessary, and doesn't work with truly
enthusiastic protagonists who are champing at the bit to enlist in the
Foreign Legion or whatever that will get them started on adventure!  But
those protagonists are following a bit of a different path anyway. :)
Many protagonists are a bit set in their ways, reluctant to disrupt their
lives, and they're the ones who might first refuse the call.  They might
even be ashamed of themselves... but they still choose not to rise to the
occasion and be the big hero and say "yes" to the call.

It does NOT have to be a big call. It doesn't have to be the president
calling saying, "We need you to defuse this bomb!"  But see if you can
make it reflect both the situation issue and the person's own start
point.

For example, Sheri, my young Yankee teacher, starts her Ordinary World
scene by going downtown in her quaint new town. She's just met with the
school board and been hired and she starts after Labor Day. She's happy--
she loves the cute town, can't wait to teach the second-graders, and she
tries not to think about all those second-graders she won't be allowed to
teach because they're the wrong color.  So she walks downtown to buy some
supplies, and she goes into the dry goods store. She sees the owner
behind the counter and recognizes her as the wife of the president of the
school board, and she realizes she better be on her best behavior (well,
she almost always is :)... Sheri is a GOOD GIRL!).  She gets her supplies
and goes to the counter. Ahead of her is the elderly black woman who first entered the store, now ready to pay for her purchases.  (Now notice, this is not a huge "segregation is evil" type of situation. This is about genteel racism, not the lynching kind. So black people are allowed to buy things in the stores downtown-- which they weren't in many towns. But this is a NICE town. Relatively.)  So Sheri gets in line behind her, and the owner says, "Young lady, you come up. I'll ring you up first."

And Sheri demurs. "Oh, this lady was here first."

And the owner says, more sharply, "I said, I'll take you first!"

Here is the call ...  Sheri, if she had, at this point, the courage of her
convictions, she'd say NO more loudly and if the owner insisted that she
was to go before the black lady, Sheri would put down her purchases and
declare that she was not going to shop here at this racist place.

But, uh, Sheri doesn't do that. The last thing she wants to do is cause a
big scene, especially here in the store of the school board president's
wife. And she really doesn't want to imply that she finds the owner's
conduct offensive, though she secretly does.  So she refuses the call,
giving in to the more negative but perfectly understandable desire to be
congenial and discreet and inoffensive.

So how do you show this?  Well, first, there has to be a call-- something
has to happen (and if it can reflect the situation's issue -- here
racism-- all the better) which the protagonist could conceivable respond
to with courage and morality... but also can respond to with something
less than that.  The call to be a hero, to be all that you can be and all
that good stuff, is refused.  But show it. Always show. :)

So Sheri does what?  She smiles apologetically at the resigned old lady
and puts her stuff down on the counter and gets out her wallet and pays
the owner for her purchases and even maybe makes polite conversation
about the school, while the old lady stands there and waits.  And Sheri
gathers up her bags and leaves. Does she feel triumphant? Of course not.
She probably feels furtive and guilty, because she knows she gave into
her weakness here, that she behaved less bravely than she hoped.

Okay, so that's an example of how the World's "before" issue can
intersect with the protagonist's "before" issue.  This event, in its way,
starts the plot going-- maybe the external plot of how Sheri comes to
battle racism in her town, but also the internal plot of her change from
cowardice to courage.  She walks out feeling ashamed... and so things
have changed.  She also can't feel the same about this world. Ten minutes
ago it was quaint and serene, but now she can't ignore what lies
underneath.

The Ordinary World : (Joseph Campbell)
"The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals
and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a
threshold is at hand."
 
 
 

Alicia Rasley is a 16-year member of Romance Writers of America and Indiana RWA, a writing teacher, and a RITA-award winning Regency author.
 

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