As I’m wrapping up my manuscript for my first novel, I’ve come to realize how writers have every right to be head-over-toe obsessed with their favorite characters – because I certainly can’t help it. One of my characters, for instance, Catherine, is an unyielding and headstrong woman whose life has been challenged, scrupulously and indiscriminately shaped by the obstacles thrown onto her path at every turn – and I just love writing about her. One fascinating thing about creating your characters is that you also get to decide on the ‘turning point’, or a.k.a. ‘character’s transformational arc’ for them. This is the moment (or moments) when the character undergoes a great deal of transformation either by a conscious choice, or by a serendipitous or misfortunate event. Like in Les Miserables, when Jean Valjean is offered a second chance at life by the benevolent Bishop when he was caught with stolen silverware. Or how Tolstoy ingeniously plotted Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky’s encounter on the train, paving the way for a series of life-altering events for both characters.
And life, as mellow and uneventful as it may seem at times, is full of turning points and transformational arcs – though they may not be as dramatic and obvious as presented in the celebrated books or movies. One thing I like to do on my own spare time especially reserved for daydreaming, is to press the rewind button and take a leisurely stroll down the memory lane—and try to recollect my own “turning points”, and ponder on all the “what ifs” (And this usually takes place incidentally when listening to songs like The Cranberries’ “Ode to My Family”, and Alanis’s “Ironic” that all possess some kind of magic formula to evoke past memories).
One particular “turning point” that comes to mind is back in high school, when I was still very much a bookish, quiet introvert (still very much the same, wearing the extrovert mask only when need be) and not exactly excelling at any subjects, except for maybe Arts, Music and English. Unsure of where my academic strength lies, and lacking a sense of goal for the impending future at University, high school was by far, not my ideal place for self-discovery. And so, on one seemingly uneventful afternoon in English class, Mr. Reed, our teacher who hails from somewhere in the UK, was passing back our marked English essay. Everyone else except me and another student received their papers back, and this was when Mr. Reed addressed the class solemnly with two papers in his hands. Apparently two students had turned in their papers without indicating their names, and he thought he’d read one out loud—one of the two papers he thought was particularly ‘good’. Immediately after he read the first line, my eyes lit up with recognition, and I have to admit, I was beaming with pride and enjoying the brief, anonymous fame. When Mr. Reed had finished and subsequently placed the paper on my desk, I felt as though he had handed me a kind of rare recognition that I seldom received in all my years in high school. There might have been a subtle nod, and I don’t quite remember, but it was as though he had affirmed a skill that I didn’t realize I had and it was just about the best feeling in the world for an insecure fifteen year-old.
And while it didn’t turn my life upside down, nor did I suddenly endeavored to become a writer, but it did instill in me a significant amount of confidence that I needed at that moment in time. A more tenuous kind of “turning point”, but nonetheless a fundamental one. And about a decade later, as I was arduously pushing my heavy luggage cart at the YVR Airport in Vancouver, I thought I saw Mr. Reed in a skiing outfit with his family. But it was so brief and, being the last minute person that I am, I had little time to spare before I had to rush to my check-in gate. Now that I think of it, that would’ve been the perfect, serendipitous opportunity to say thank you.
So, if anyone has the contact information of Mr. Reed, who hails from somewhere in the UK, who used to teach sec. 4 in Ecole Secondaire Jean XXIII in Dorval, Montreal… I would really appreciate it.