Milestones That Aren’t
Last Friday was my birthday. It was a moderately significantly numbered birthday, and by that I mean it wasn’t a major milestone (like, say, 21 or 30 or 50) but it wasn’t a filler birthday, either. Even so, while there was a bit of fanfare (I have great friends), it didn’t feel as significant to me as I thought it should.
This all got me thinking about milestones that my characters face, or could face, during the course of their journey, and how they experience them. Since I write young adult, there are some significant birthday possibilities, of course, but so much more than just that: getting a driver’s license; senior prom; getting into college; graduation; moving out. Then, of course, there are all the “firsts”: the first time you drive a car, the first time you call someone your boyfriend, the first time you stand up to an adult, the first time you sneak out of the house, the first time you realize you have something unique to say and there might just be some people in the world who want to hear you say it.
Yes, these milestones could all be experienced with a rush of adrenaline and excitement, a small shock to the system, a deep breath, maybe a shaky smile and maybe an unsuppressible grin. Jumpy stomachs and sweaty palms and the need to swallow repeatedly or sit down for a moment to take in the enormous weight of it all.
But what if none of that happens? What if the character wants to feel the thrill of success at climbing out his bedroom window in the middle of the night and instead is annoyed at having caved to the pressure of his friends and feeling guilty for lying to his parents? What if she gets behind the wheel of her dad’s car and freezes up, deciding she doesn’t really need a license or to know how to drive after all? What if graduation day arrives and instead of feeling like throwing your cap into the air and celebrating with friends, you just feel…normal?
Those possibilities are just as interesting as the standard, expected reactions, and just as real. Moreover, they invite further inquiry: why doesn’t he want to sneak out? Is there something in her past that makes her afraid to drive a car? Do you feel unimpressed by graduation because it’s just another day, and you’re not heading out on any grand journey afterwards?
That’s where the story is sometimes…in those moments that go against what the reader expects and leads the reader to want to know more. Next time you think you should be feeling something more significant, or different, than you are, ask yourself if there’s a character moment buried in there. You might just learn something about yourself in the process.