Writing Fiction: Point of Engagement

Last week, a friend asked how my novel was going. After a bit of umming-and-ahing I had to admit that the fundamental problem I was facing was that I didn’t care much about the central dilemma – whether libraries should be kept open or not. I mean, sure, if they were closed I’d think it was a terrible thing, but day-to-day there are other things that exercise me more. She said, ‘You need to find the point of engagement.’ And I knew immediately what she meant.

At the start of Three Kings, David O. Russell’s film about the rout of Iraqis after Kuwait, an American soldier, Troy, shoots a ‘towelhead’ trying to surrender. He and his friends stand around the body and talk. Then they discover a map for hidden gold and set out to try to find it. In the process they are forced to face the reality of what they are doing there, not just as an intellectual exercise, but with Troy literally depending on an Iraqi for his life.

For him, the point of engagement is the point of the film. But it does not start with humanitarianism, it starts with greed. A McGuffin that leads him straight into the heart of the problem.
It makes me think about what I am writing. And though it may seem inappropriate to compare the closure of libraries to the Kuwaiti war, at what point does the central character start caring about the closures and, more to the point, when do I?

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