How do I write a metamorphosis story?
One of the main reasons people read is to experience a character's arc of change, in other words, their transformation, and transformation stories are among the most powerful and popular in literature and film.
That's because the human experience is all about change. Each of us is in work – growing, changing our perception and thinking – and shaping our character.
These stories involve the reader in the change of character and help them explore their own potential and desire for transformation, as well as the associated limitations, options and prices.
What is a transformation story? Definition of the transformation story
We're always about to become – and that goes for our characters too. Most stories work best when they involve some kind of character change. However, the transformation diagram goes a step further by really drawing attention to the type of change and the effect it creates.
Transformation stories examine the hero's process of change as he evolves through the phases of the plot, reacting to events and stimuli, and becoming a different person than he was at the beginning.
How transformation happens
Let me share an anecdote from my own life and see if you've experienced anything similar. Our family lived in Southern Virginia for several years. Then we moved to Spain. Six years passed and we moved back to the same area of Virginia, not far from our original neighborhood.
I saw people I knew but hadn't seen in a long time. Many of them had changed in remarkable ways. It was fun looking at the kids and identifying them from the little ones I had known. I remember a man was about eighty pounds overweight when I left and was thin as a railing when I returned.
Changes had occurred, and by my frame of reference, they were amazing. But for those who had never left, the changes were so gradual that they went unnoticed or taken for granted.
The trick to writing a good Transformational Story is to focus on a specific part of your character's life so that the reader can witness the change. This means that you will likely need to speed things up beyond what happens in real life, a bit like time lapse photography.
The desire for change
If you have any marketing experience, you know that the most powerful techniques focus on communicating how a product or service changes the status or status of the customer. Take him, for example, from a faltering dweeb to a Buff Adonis who delights women on the beach.
We all have a desire to change in some ways and to some extent. In an effective story, the protagonist ends up being a different person than she was at the beginning. Readers also want to experience this change.
Let's take a look at the important features of a transformation plot.
4 steps to writing a transformation story
Of course, every story is different and there are additional requirements that you need to consider in relation to the genre you have chosen. However, here are a few basic elements to consider when working on a transform plot.
1. Start with a stimulating incident that triggers the transformation.
Something happens that triggers or evokes a need for change and starts the character along the story arc. However, it is important that your reader understand the character before this happens. Remember, in a transform plot, the focus is on the nature of the change and how it will affect the character. For this to have an impact, the reader needs to have a feel for who your character is prior to the triggering incident.
2. Follow a cause and effect course
Your reader wants the story to unfold, anticipate events from well-planted setups, and enjoy the payouts. She wants to watch the natural progression of change and be surprised by unforeseen results in order to increase the interest of the story. Cause and Effect is a powerful recipe for engaging the reader in transforming a character.
3. Add a current incident that defines the outcome of the transformation
Like a bookend for the triggering incident, this event occurs late in the game and is used to illustrate and express the results of the character's arc. It can include unexpected lessons, unintended consequences, shattered illusions, a changed worldview, or other aspects, depending on the genre and message of your story.
4. A statement of the price paid
Changes are not without costs. Your character may have to give up something they want for something they need. There will always be a sacrifice and the ending can be bittersweet. In Kramer vs. Kramer, the Dustin Hoffman character loses his wife, but gains a far richer relationship with his son. In The Brief Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Francis finds his elusive bravery but loses his life.
Other elements to consider for your transformation story
Aside from these basics, which should be included in any Transformation Story, there are a few additional elements that often come into play. Here are some of the most common.
- A strong mentor. Think Miyagi-san, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Haymitch Abernathy.
- A danger of escalating danger, not necessarily physical diversity. Often there is a risk to the psyche or self-perception of the character.
- A slide. A minor character that reflects positive or negative aspects of the protagonist.
The Hero's Journey: A Model of the History of Transformation
The hero's journey is the epitome of transformation. David Safford has written a number of articles describing various aspects of the hero's journey structure that are worth exploring. The hero is forced to change as a result of a conflict and leave his comfort zone in order to bring home the elixir that will put right a world gone wrong.
The transformation story can be prescriptive and contain a positive message of hope and inspiration. A few examples come to mind – Groundhog Day, High Noon, Tender Mercies, Shrek, the emperor's new groove, it's a wonderful life.
Conversely, the story could be a warning, evoking horror, compassion, and counter-motivation for what is not to be done. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the great Gatsby, the godfather. I couldn't come up with so many negative examples, but I remembered Mary Westmacott's book "Absent in Spring," which is an interesting example of how to have it both ways.
Examples of transformation stories
Mary Westmacott is a pseudonym for Agatha Christie. Absent in spring strikes me in particular because the whole thing takes place over a period of days in the middle of the desert and nothing happens. Nevertheless, the story is exciting, unforgettable and contains a fascinating arc of characters, as the protagonist is forced to think about her life. The reader experiences a change but gets a feeling of hope. . . Well I don't want to spoil it.
The short story by Thomas Wolfe, "Das Ferne und das Nahe", which I read in college, is about a train engineer whose route took him past a tidy house every day for years. This is a depressingly negative example of a transformation story that made a deep impression on me.
In the story, the protagonist always whistled the train and the woman and little girl who lived there came out to wave to him. He watched this little girl grow up over the decades of his career and formed a rosy image based on his loving exchanges with these citizens.
When he retired, he decided to visit them to let them know how much their smiles and appreciation had meant to him over the years. As he approaches the house, everything is different from what he had imagined – dirtier, shabbier, darker. When the woman opens the door, she is hostile and suspicious of him. His illusion is shaken.
How to transform the world, one character at a time
Fortunately, both the prescriptive and cautionary variants can provide excellent motivational and satisfying entertainment, making the Transformational Story one of the most popular story types in all of literature.
We all have things that we want to change – in our lives, in our world, in ourselves. A story about such transformations can sometimes provide the exact boost we need to get us going.
What about you? Do you enjoy reading a good transformation story? Would you like to give a few examples? Tell us about it in the comments.
Let's sketch a blueprint for a transformation story. Create the characters and plot, or choose a familiar story and analyze it in terms of the critical elements. In both cases:
- An exciting incident that started the transformation
- Describe some cause and effect events
- A recent incident that defines the outcome of the transformation
- A statement of the price paid
Write for fifteen minutes. When you're done, post your work in the comments and don't forget to give feedback to your co-authors!
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