On Milestones

Milestone: A significant event or point in development

A few weeks ago, I celebrated a milestone birthday. I met this particular milestone with less than my usual enthusiasm, and it got me thinking.

I’ve had many milestones in my life, from relationships, to career opportunities, to giving birth, and even getting published. How have those events changed me and influenced the person I’ve become? How have they made me feel about myself, and how have they changed the way others view me?

Then, of course, being a writer, I imposed those questions upon the poor, unsuspecting characters in my books. Suckers!

Milestones tend to be thought of as positive, life-changing events that give a person the impetus to be bigger, better, stronger, richer (both monetarily, and in their souls). I love when an action or reaction to a milestone is different than what you would expect it to be.

Heroine #1 earns her college degree after years of putting herself through school, and now has the world at her fingertips! The possibilities are endless! The only way to go is up! Her optimism knows no bounds! She lives in a world of exclamation points!

File:Modern Languages Graduation 15th July (9301989552).jpg

By University of Exeter from United Kingdom [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

After years as a “starving artist”, Heroine #2 has finally landed a lead role in the most anticipated movie of the year. Just when she thought she was going to be thrown out of her rented apartment, she now has more money than she needs, enough to pay her rent and save for a rainy day. This role will get her such tremendous exposure, and working with this director will give her great credibility as an actress. She knows she will never struggle again.

File:Suzie Plakson (7378250282).jpg

By Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia (Suzie Plakson Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How does the milestone event change these heroines?

For Heroine #1, I imagine it goes something like this. Earning her degree builds so much self-confidence, she decides a change is in order. She gets lively highlights in her otherwise mousy hair, walks with her shoulders back now that the weight of the world has been lifted off them, and she becomes desirable to every man she meets.  She finds the perfect job, becomes independent, and doesn’t want or need a man to tell her what to do. An alpha hero may work for her, but only if he can come to the realization that what draws him to her is the thing he shouldn’t be trying to change. A beta hero needs to have the confidence to support our heroine without feeling inferior to her.

Heroine #2 has to take this career boost in stride. It can’t make her snobby, or standoffish, or superior. Those adjectives don’t work for a romance heroine. Instead, she needs to remain humble, use her new-found celebrity as a means of drawing attention to a charitable endeavor, and be accessible to her fans. She needs to be beloved by an adoring public, as her star soars to the limits of the stratosphere.

What if, however, that’s not how it goes? What if, after finally earning her degree, the field Heroine #1 has studied has dried up, and there are no jobs? It happens all the time. She has used all her savings to pay for school, and she is stuck in the waitressing job she took to put herself through school, because the government has stopped funding space exploration and becoming an astronaut is no longer an option. The bills are mounting, and she is desperate.

What if, in Heroine #2’s case, becoming a movie star isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. What if there are expectations put on her that she hates? What if she ends up wanting to walk away from it all and gain control of her own life again?

What you do with a heroine’s (or hero’s) milestones determines the entire arc of your book. Heroine #1’s story is completely different if she finds a job, versus not finding a job. In other words, if she is successful, or if she ends up in dire straits financially. Heroine #2’s story arc is different depending on if she embraces the Hollywood lifestyle, or if she eschews it for simplicity and a life outside the limelight.

In novels, the milestones in the hero and heroine’s lives often inform their motivation and goals. Take, for instance, the heroine in RoseAnn DeFranco’s debut novel, Return to Audubon Springs. Emma has achieved best-selling author status, but she is determined to keep her ex, Rafe, at arm’s length in order to protect her heart and keep a secret she has hidden from him. She has determined the best way to do this is to play the snobby rich girl, which she knows he abhors. So even though she has reached this milestone, and it gives her independence from her controlling mother, she hides the accomplishment from Rafe so she can achieve her goals.

What you choose to do with the milestones in your characters’ lives, and how they react to them, helps determine their goals, motivation, and conflict, the three building blocks of a story.

Which milestones have you achieved in your life, and how have you acted and reacted because of them? Or, if that is too personal a question, what books have you read where the reaction to achieving a milestone is different than what you might expect? 

Leave a comment


  1. Very interesting, Jaye! Except you are giving me a complex b/c I can’t seem to think of a single thing in answer. Do I not think enough about my characters? Do I not give enough of a character arc? Or is it just that I’m pantsing it, letting choices get made, consequences stirred up without planning it? I might just get back to you when I have time to think on this… In the meanwhile, I hope that your milestone will bring all good things!

  2. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  January 13, 2014

    Hi Jaye! I absolutely love the approach to this blog and not only because you used Emma as an example, but because I LOVE using real life situations I experience and funnel them into my blog posts and writing. Like Jenna, this post really made me think.

    I tend to look at those big coming of age moments in a character’s life – what happens and how they act or react – in shaping their character. An action or reaction in itself is an indication of character.

    Jenna – I think Milestones can come from positive and negative experiences. I think if you think hard, you will see there are several milestones in your own manuscripts that helped define your characters actions/reactions and helped to shape their future. Often the milestone was reached before page one.

    Happy Milestone, Jaye! 🙂

    • True, RoseAnn. I think that in my future character analysis pages, I’m going to include a space for important milestones in the characters’ history. We are all shaped by our experiences, and knowing what our characters have gone through before page one is important!

  3. Well, it’s funny you say that, Jenna, because until I reflected on my own milestone, I didn’t consciously think of this aspect of my characters. As I began to write this post, though, I realized that, consciously or not, I have integrated this into my current WIP, for both the hero and the heroine. I just hadn’t seen this approach put into words anywhere yet. I’m glad it got you thinking!

  4. I’m coming up blank, Jaye, but I know I must have read books where milestones where reached. I just can never think of things like that on the spot. Love the post though. (And as soon as I hit send on this comment, I’m sure I’ll come up with a great answer.)

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  January 14, 2014

      I’m with you, Emma…I have a hard time coming up with things on the spot, too. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. Congratulations on your milestone, Jaye! Milestones are definitely important in a character’s backstory. Not sure if I’ve ever included any in the actual book, though. Birth? Pregnancy? First sexual experience?

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  January 14, 2014

      Thanks, Joanna! I guess the secret baby, which might then include all of the above, is a pretty popular milestone. You bring up a good question, though…are tropes and milestones the same thing? I guess sometimes they can be. I think tropes form the basis for main conflict in the story, though, where milestones can just be something the hero/heroine reacts to, no?

  6. The only thing that comes to mind for me is that it was shorty after hitting a milestone birthday of my own (although different than yours) I put the stake in the ground and started to write. For me, I didn’t want to have any regrets and it’s put my life on a slightly different course. A course I’m very happy to be on!

    I hope you enjoyed your milestone and wish you many more!

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  January 14, 2014

      Those birthday milestones are certainly impetus for rethinking/redirecting oneself!

      Sometimes, we just need that little push.

  7. Great post, Jaye! I’ve always thought of my character’s backstory, but now I’m going to think of their milestones as well. It’s very interesting how a person reacts when their expectations aren’t met. I often find that nothing goes exactly as planned, but there is a good reason for it. I may not understand why at the moment, but the saying, “everything happens for a reason” is usually true…

    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  January 14, 2014

      Tina, I think you’re right. It’s when things don’t turn out as planned, and how we react, that provides much of the fodder for my characters’ actions. And often, what seems to be a negative result of an event, actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise. 🙂

  8. Diana Quincy

     /  January 20, 2014

    I haven’t thought much about my character’s milestones but this post has me thinking. I’m not sure the traditional milestones apply in all books but I do think they can in some plots. Congratulations on your recent milestone birthday! Mine is coming up next year and I’ll be looking to you for pointers!


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