On Stories: Journey Plots: Coming of Age.

This last journey plot needs no introduction.  It is the journey from childhood to adulthood, and as the fools say, “been there, done that.”  On the one hand, if you have such a story in mind, you have a ready-made audience.  Everyone can (more or less) relate.  On the other hand, unless you write like Salinger or plan to pen the next To Kill a Mockingbird, you may find it is not so easy to do well or in a fresh way. 

Generally, something will happen that will shake or shatter the child’s comfortable view of the world.  Unless you are planning a series like Little House on the Prairie, it is probably best to stick with one thing.  Other aspects of life will be touched on, like a young girl confirming in her mind that her father is a good man, but only one thing should be troubling, and that should be more than enough.

Then it depends on the character you have drawn because not every child will approach a problem in the same way.  Some will explore and discover—perhaps treating the new information like a mystery to be solved.  Some will stand back and watch, taking in how this new information plays out in the rise or fall of the adults around her.  Some might let the information transform them, like trying on mom or dads grown up clothes—and may find out that the information was not quite the same as they first imagined.  There is not just one way to get from New York to Los Angeles.

In the end, the crisis will be resolved one way or another, and it will be transformative, even if all Dorothy learns is if she ever goes searching for her heart’s desire again, she won’t search any further than her own back yard.  Children will grow up (we hope—I’m still struggling with teenagers).  It needs to show in the resolution.

The Plot

Actually, we have already walked through the basic plot.  There are only a few things to add—things which are essentially true of all journey plots.

First, let the dilemma be presented up front.  The journey cannot begin until staying home is no longer an option.  Grandma dies, or single mom brings her boyfriend into the house, or a burglar breaks into the house and terrorizes the family, or the child learns their father died in Afghanistan—whatever.  There is an issue (issues) and childhood’s safe and secure world is at stake.  That is where the journey begins.  That is where they story begins.

The middle is the struggle to deal with it all.  Explore, discover, step up in strength, fall back in weakness and withdraw, trying on clothes.  The success of the story will depend to a great extent on how well these turns of the mind and heart, like obstacles in the road are portrayed, how well they relate to the end result and how creative, imaginative and well written the obstacle sequences are

The end—the transformation from child to adult, at least in this small way—will mirror all journey plots: success or failure; that is good, bad or sad.  Good will be if the child gains a more realistic view of life and is better able to handle reality on a more adult level.  Bad, if the child rejects the lessons and leaves the reader thinking that this one is going to need some serious counseling (if not drugs) ten years down the line.  Sad, if it ends the way so many of these stories apparently want to end these days: with the child replacing innocence with cynicism.  There are other options, you know.

In any case, start at the start, ditching the background and build-up.  Keep in mind that this is a journey.  Arrive at the destination in a few pages and stop.  Yes, the train slows before the station and the plane taxis to the terminal after landing, but don’t drag it out.  Don’t let the beginning or ending drag.  A journey story is all about the middle—it is all about the journey.

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