The fresh hurt is the catalyst that sets the story in motion. See, often people will endure small, uncomfortable pain in their modern life because change is hard, challenging, and confrontational. Workers will deal with things like demeaning bosses, unfair requests, and petty politics. Overweight people will deal with diminished self-esteem, judgmental “looks” from strangers and nagging aches and pains. Society’s citizens will deal with oppressive police, unequal distribution of wealth and oppressive public policies. Most people just want to be left alone. As a result, they will deal with the current “way it is”.
Until they won’t.
All of us have a line in the sand. The theory of the fresh hurt is that you cross it.
Hurt your protagonist. Take them to the point where enough is enough so that despite the fact that they do not want to change, that they do not want to do things differently, that they do not want to go fight for something, they must.
The fresh hurt sends them reeling into the “enough is enough” type of moment.
A moment ago I mentioned the office worker who will endure with demeaning bosses, unfair requests, and petty politics. But there is a point at which the line in the sand can be crossed for this worker and they will fight back. Maybe they quit. Maybe they decide to play hardball office politics themselves and turn Machiavellian. Maybe they flip their baseball cap around, grab an AK-47 and head for the conference room to go have a little discussion about the memo which just informed them that THEY HAVE SURPASSED THEIR MONTHLY ALLOTMENT OF PAPERCLIPS!
A fresh, new hurt becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
For the overweight person perhaps it’s that glance in the mirror at themselves when they are waiting in line for a chocolate milkshake which causes them to snap and say, “Look at me, enough is enough already.” Or maybe it’s the heart attack where the cardiologist tells them that if they don’t lose 75 pounds, they have almost no chance of ever seeing their grandkids graduate from high school because they’re on track for yet another stretcher tour of the land of cardiac arrest.
For the citizens who deal with oppressive police, unequal distribution of wealth and oppressive public policies, perhaps it’s hearing the response “Let ‘em eat cake” when told the people have no bread. Who knows, right?
The point is that the fresh hurt is the moment when a sparked fuse hits a powder keg of dynamite and there is no alternative for the protagonist but to plant their flag, stake their claim and go fight!
Let’s look at some examples. In The Hunger Games, Katniss endures, endures and endures her current life of squalor until her younger sister, the person she loves most on the planet, is selected to participate in the savage games where she will most assuredly die. For Katniss, this is her “enough is enough” moment, the fresh new hurt that triggers the action of the story. “Ain’t no way you’re taking my sister. You want to mess with someone from my family? Well, now you’re gonna have to mess with me.”
In Animal Farm, the “enough is enough” moment comes when the farmer gets so inebriated that he forgets to feed all the animals and next thing you know, enough is enough, and this fresh new hurt (starvation and beatings at the hands of a lowlife drunk) has triggered an outright animal rebellion.
Hamlet? The fresh hurt comes when he sees the ghost of his dead father, is forced to acknowledge that indeed, something is rotten in the state of Denmark and he, as the prince and heir to the throne, must do something. The line in Hamlet’s sand has been crossed and vengeance must belong to the prince! (By feigning madness and capturing the conscience of the king who is not really the king in order to avenge the father that was murdered by his uncle – who is now sleeping with Hamlet’s mom, the dead king’s widow, and is now – is this incest? – the new king’s wife. Wow, did Shakespeare know how to bring fresh hurt to a protagonist or what?)
In my book Cinder-Smella, our hero, is denied the chance to go to the big, elaborate ball where Prince Charmingschoz awaits. In my book Homeboyz, a gang-banger kills Teddy’s sister in a drive-by shooting, triggering his bloodthirsty quest for revenge. In my novel Nerd Girls, Allergy Alice is about to victimized by the most popular girls on campus, simply for the sake of their own mean-spirited entertainment and our hero, who has been bullied and victimized before, says “enough is enough” and stands up to go defend an innocent peer from the cruelty of middle school lunchtime antics.
All of us have a line in the sand. When a fresh hurt crosses the line and the hero can sit idly by no more, that’s what gives your story its engine.