Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Needed: Milestones that Create Change

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 22•15

As your story moves along, each milestone the protagonist milestoneencounters will test, stress, and shape him or her in a new  way. It will force a reconsideration or recalibration of who he is. A milestone can be an emotionally-charged event or life passage such as a wedding, funeral, a harrowing childbirth, or death bed scene. A milestone can involve a decision or moral dilemma. A series of milestones are the basis for the story’s structure. Milestones are a way to measure the protagonist’s progress toward his or her goal and highlight key events.

They can also be set pieces such as a battle or fight or chase. Set pieces require a buildup, provide a lot of drama, emotional intensity, and change the direction of the story. Think the burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.

Atticus Finch in courtroomOften the set piece scene will show the character’s new realization as the scene progresses.

Milestones, no matter their size or scope should force change and growth in the main character.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, a coming-of-age story,  the trial of Tom Robinson is the milestone and set piece the whole story evolves around. Once Atticus Finch decides to defend Robinson and the trial unfolds, nothing will ever be the same in Maycomb and the Finch family will be forever tied to and changed by the events.

Tom Robinsin, a black man is wrongly accused of raping a white woman. The case is based on the false testimony of Mayella  and Bob Ewell. Robinson seals his own doom by telling the court that he felt sorry for Mayella—something unheard of from a black man. The arrest and trial reveals all the simmering racism, hatred, and injustice in a small Southern town. A game changer. After a milestone no one is left unscathed.

What are the milestones in your story?

keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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