The word “epiphany” was never in my vocabulary until fairly recent times. I had heard it, but I only knew it as some high-church religious term that didn’t touch my world. Several years ago I heard it used in a way that made me become more aware of the word in a context of everyday life. Recently I’ve found myself using it occasionally.
The dictionary describes “epiphany” as a “sudden, striking understanding of something.” That fits the way I’ve been understanding it and using it. That’s a comfort. And if that is its meaning, then I had an epiphany last evening—by candlelight.
Now that I’ve finished the myriad writings and rewritings of my first novel, Tangled Strands, it is time to think about the second one. This one has had a root file on my computer for as many as two decades. I’ve had it all plotted and outlined, but based on all I’ve been learning about writing in the last few years, this one had problems that would need to be solved before it went anywhere.
Among the many things I’ve learned about novel writing in the last six years are these:
• You have to have a main character, and with few exceptions male leads need to be written by male authors.
• That main character must want something very badly; otherwise, you don’t have fodder enough for a story, let alone a whole novel.
• Your opening sentence or two must strike your reader between the eyes and make him or her say, “Oh, I’ve got to read more of this!” Today’s readers have no patience to start with flowery descriptions nor the heroine studying herself in a mirror.
• The opening scene must center on the main character, which means that character must appear in those opening sentences.
• Not long after your “opening hook,” you need an “inciting incident.” That is something that kicks the story into action, and it needs to connect to the goal/desire/longing of the lead character.
All this is well and good and I agree with it—but that didn’t make it easy to make decisions about the entirely new opening I needed for my new novel, Tapestries. Just two days ago I made a name change to one of the candidates for main character, and that (don’t ask me how) helped me bond to that character and be content with what I already knew—that she needed to be the lead for the whole tale.
But where and how to start? What could I use for the opening hook and the inciting incident?
Storms yesterday afternoon and evening took away power in our part of the city for eight hours, including the evening. I was happy to spend time reading a top book on novel writing and watching the fading dusk through the double windows. But later in the evening, by the light of a stubby candle that willingly submitted itself to being used up, I got out my little computer and started green-lighting about this story.
I was just past the middle of the page when it came to me—after all these months (even years) of thinking about it. I would start with Catherine preparing for her wedding (but not studying herself in the mirror!). And just like that, I had the inciting incident, too—a meltdown by a four-year-old boy. The need for the meltdown was already in the story; I just needed to recognize where it needed to happen. I had my “sudden, striking understanding,” my epiphany.
So now I am on my way to being able to sit down and write a brand new version of what I hope is going to be an emotional story.