We're up to week two in our new series about the Stages of Change. If you missed week one, you can read about the Precontemplation Stage here.
The second stage is called the Contemplation Stage. This stage takes up most of the most of the novel...probably all the way through Act II at least. At the start of this stage, the main character faces the inciting event (also called the change element or trigger in my world of psychology) where they are introduced to the fact that they do have a problem or some hurdle that they need to overcome.
This inciting event throws their life into chaos, and they sorely miss the days of their Precontemplative status quo. They are forced to begin to think about making a change or overcoming things, but they are in no way ready to commit. In fact, they might be begrudging to the representative of the new way of things (in a romance, this is usually the lead opposite character) and very resistant to even the idea of change, much less making it for themselves.
In real life, this stage can last months to years. People like things the way they are, and change usually isn't received well. It's messes up the flow of someone's life, so it's not welcome. All readers can relate to characters going through this same thing, as this is a universal human experience.
Characters in this stage have been known to make pro/con lists or do a cost/benefit analysis to see if it's worth their while to even try to prepare for the change. Usually the costs outweigh the benefits to the person contemplating this, and they tend to focus on every reason why they shouldn't make the change.
WRITERS: these reasons make for great plot points to address through your sagging middle!! As you unfold your story, you will painstakingly (and meanly!) strip away your characters excuses and defenses, driving them toward the third stage of Preparation.
Writers should show the conflicting emotions of characters contemplating the literary change they need to make. Typically, even though the character can see more cons and pros, they also usually know that they should make the change. This leads to their ambivalence, because along with the pros of the change, they also have to face those perceived cons.
Let me conclude with an example from Twilight. Edward's status quo was going to school forever on overcast days, pretending to be human. This is the Precontemplative Stage. His inciting event is getting a whiff of Bella's scent, his "own personal brand of heroin." He then enters the Contemplative Stage, i.e., What the heck do I do about this girl whose mind I can't read but the temptation of whose blood I can hardly withstand? He weighs the pros/cons, as seen in when he talks to her, trying to get to know her, but then turns around and is rude to her to keep her at arm's length.
Next week we'll address the Preparation Stage and where this fits into our novels.
Q4U: How long do you give your characters to contemplate what's before them for the rest of the novel? Does this differ according to genre?