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Connection, Part II: Human Moments

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Here’s something great about great fiction: a made-up story becomes our story.  Whatever the main character is going through is what we’ve been through.  The struggle is our struggle.  The world of the story is our world.

When you think about it, that’s weird.  It’s illogical, too.  The characters we’re reading about aren’t real.  What happens in the story isn’t actually happening.  The story world can be far removed from our own world, as well.  Despite that, we connect to Elizabeth Bennet, working a tedious desk job in the Ministry of Truth, and Oz.

Are we nuts?  Hypnotized?  Daydreaming?  Imagining ourselves to be more brainy, capable, self-actualized, suffering or just plain alive than we are?  Do we seek heroes?  Do we want representation?  To feel understood?  To understand others?  To escape our lives and problems and enjoy the better, more exciting or more fulfilling times that someone else is having?

In reading fiction are we secretly projecting ourselves into tales more heroic, romantic, adventurous, suspenseful, tragic or beautiful than our own?  Are we living by proxy?   Are our hopes and fears being affirmed?  Do we want answers and paths out of our conundrums and traps?  Do we turn to novels for comfort and caution, as people once read the Bible?  Does the meaning embedded in novels assure us that our own lives have meaning too?

When we visit Hogsmeade, Amity Island or Mayfield are we tourists in places that we hope—or fear—could exist?  Are we fascinated by a world more heightened and dramatic than our suburban street?  Is a story journey like a Technicolor adaptation of our gray and featureless daily commute?  A relief from it?  Do story worlds mirror our world?  Do they capture our world’s realities and truths in code, accurately but safely?

All of the above can be true.  Our relationship to novels can be symbiotic.  Affirming.  Therapeutic.  Both testing and satisfying, making us feel smart like crossword puzzles.  None of that is bad but boiled down, what connects us to fiction is what is human.

Timeless fiction tells the stories of exciting people but it’s also about plain old, ordinary us.  However unreal are a novel’s events, what connects us is the amazing discovery that what it is like for heroes is what it is like for us.  Timeless fiction may sweep us away to far flung times and lands but when it lasts in our hearts it is also carrying us home.

If the secret of connection, then, is a human connection, how is that connection made in stories which are far—or at least somewhat—removed from our real experience?  If the colorful characters, dramatic events and story worlds of dread and delight aren’t what fundamentally connects us, what does?

The answer is a lot simpler and smaller than we might think.

Simple Human Connection

It doesn’t matter how different are the people, happenings or places in your novel, if there are people in it—and I’m counting in that characters who are demi-gods, cyborgs, vampires, rabbits or who in any way sound and act like humans—then there are opportunities to include in a novel the experiences that are common to us all.  Moments we’ve all had.  The ones that let us know that we’re human.

In capturing these moments, it’s important to build them in detail.  Draw us in slowly.  Nail down the specifics that cause the feelings that actually make moments more than just what we might see and hear in any given minute.  In particular, you can work with elements like the following:

  • What this moment is akin to
  • What this moment pointedly is not
  • What is true right now that has never been true before
  • What was not expected at this moment
  • What was expected but which is infinitely worse, better or different
  • The inner gift of this moment
  • The infinite loss of this moment
  • The new “I” that arrives at this moment
  • The old “I” which to which is said farewell
  • (Something to add: a physical detail of the scene to aid reader visualization)

Now, what sort of moments make this human connection?  Here’s a list of suggestions for moments that we all, in one way or another, have experienced.  These moments are inner, yet they are triggered by something outer.  Using the elements above, try one or more of the following:

  • There’s no going back.
  • It’s up to me alone.
  • “You must choose.”
  • That door is shut forever.
  • I’m not that person anymore.
  • Crap, there’s no right answer.
  • You made that for me?
  • OMG, he loves me!
  • I am utterly alone.
  • I can’t go on.
  • How can you accuse me?  I’m innocent.
  • There’s no avoiding it anymore: I’m guilty.
  • The first time for…
  • The last time that…
  • Departing for good.
  • Arriving at last.
  • Open the letter and…you’re in!
  • Sorry, but you haven’t been chosen.
  • Sorry, but that’s how things really are.
  • Sorry, there is no cure.
  • Time for Plan B.
  • There is no Plan B.
  • All is lost.
  • Miracles can happen.

As I think you can see, whether it is a moment of triumph or the dark night of the soul, when a story moment connects with us it’s because it contains—and because you pointedly evoke—a feeling that at one time or another we’ve all had.  These connecting moments are mile markers on our human journey.  Heroes have them.  So do we.  All of us.  When reading, it’s another way in which we connect.

What’s a simple human moment in your story and how are you evoking it so that we will connect?

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