Recently, I moved from a rural mountain town to suburbia. Still in northern California, but a very different northern California than I’m used to. I grew up in California and went to school at UC Davis so it’s not like moving to a suburban landscape is completely foreign to me. I’m just not accustomed to living is such proximity to so many people.
The other day while riding my bike to work, a car cut me off.
It was the classic maneuver. I waited patiently at a red light along with said asshole. I, on my bike, stood on the right hand side of the road. Maybe the guy thought I wasn’t going to go straight. Maybe he thought I was gonna make a right along with him, but then why would I be waiting for the light? In California, one can make a right hand turn on a red light as long as it’s clear. And for a bike, that can squeeze between the curb and the cars, there really is no reason to stop at a red light if you are turning right (of course, except to check for traffic).
Anyway, as soon as the light turned green, the guy shot out in front of me as I’m lumbering forward still half off my bike, and turned right. I had to hit the brakes hard and half turn into the curb to avoid hitting the dude. In a low voice, I said, “Sheesh!” and gave him a dirty look that he hopefully caught a glimpse of in his rearview mirror. Shaking my head, I continued straight through the intersection. As I rode the rest of my way to work, my nice and cheery morning mood shattered, I thought of all the ways I could get back at this guy. One scenario involved swords and a boat. Don’t worry, I won’t explain. But as I contemplated this dude’s punishment, I came to realize that my compassionate outlook towards humanity deteriorated rather quickly after arriving in suburbia. After living in the mountains (away from people), I imagined myself a changed person. Able to respond to life’s little incidents with calm assurance and understanding.
Now I understand why Buddhist monks seclude themselves in remote sanctuaries. Humanity can blot out the best of intentions.
But the worse thing about the whole incident is that I realized I haven’t really changed. No, I am no longer the arrogant cyclist that would chase drivers into their driveways and wait patiently for them to exit their vehicle so I could inform them how they just left me for dead on the side of the road. No, at least, I don’t do that anymore. 🙄
But, I still want to.
I suppose that is why we read. In books, in good books, characters have this thing called an ‘arc’. A character arc, if you will. In the craft of writing, a character’s arc or story arc indicates the change that a character experiences by events. So, in the beginning of the story, an easily angered cyclist changes to an understanding cyclist because she comes to realize that drivers are just human and make mistakes too. The story moves and changes the characters. We, as readers, draw satisfaction from their learned experiences.
In this week’s Writer’s Digest email newsletter, Jessica Strawser highlights some of the key character spectrums postulated by D.P. Lyle. From tough guy to whiner, from believer to doubter, etc. Where do your characters start on the spectrum and where do they end? Very interesting idea, one that I will explore with my own characters. But in the meantime, I need to go chase me down some bad drivers. 😉