Vicki Doudera here, at my desk on this snowy Monday.
Yesterday was The Feast of Epiphany, occurring on the twelfth day of Christmas, a holiday that has always been one of my favorites. I love the story of the Magi, following a star to find the new Messiah, as well as their heeding of a dream that warned them not to journey home by the same route.
Like many Biblical stories, there’s a real life-and-death drama in it.
King Herod had sent the three wise men on their quest, and presumably they were to report back to him. And yet they let a dream change their whole course. Why? The story relates an amazing experience they’d shared upon seeing the baby and presenting their gifts. It was their moment of divine insight, an Epiphany: the tiny infant in his humble surroundings was actually God.
The event came to be known as the Adoration of the Magi, and many hundreds of artists have depicted the scene, including Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Tissot, and Velasquez.
Although I’m describing a Christian story here, the idea of an epiphany is not limited to Christianity. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zen all share the same concept, and the term can be used in secular ways as well.
According to the dictionary, the word epiphany comes from the ancient Greek meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance.” It’s an experience of sudden, dramatic realization, and is usually used to describe breakthrough scientific, religious or philosophical discoveries (think Archimedes and his “Eureka!”) but it can apply anytime an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.
An epiphany is deeper than one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Aha!” moments. To really work, an epiphany has to follow some intensive thinking, not just pop out of the blue. It’s a useful device when writing crime fiction, but it’s got to be done correctly or it seems “pat.” For me, the trick is to show my protagonist Darby Farr pondering the problem again and again before she has her breakthrough. If it’s too easy, readers will feel cheated.
I’d like to think I’ve had a dramatic realization or two in my fifty years, but I’m not sure my experiences would qualify as true epiphanies. One helpful one though, came a few years ago when I was out on a journey similar to the “we three kings of Orient are”.
Actually, I was not out searching for a Messiah, but walking the dog, and whining a bit to myself as I slogged through the winter slush. I was at the same point in one of my mysteries that I am right now (what I call “the muddle in the middle”) and kind of bemoaning the fact that it was so hard and I had so much to do. Poor me!
Then I had my flash of insight. I thought, “Hey, no one has a gun to your head. You are doing this because you want to, so shut the heck up.”
Sure – I’ve got a legally binding document that says I will finish my next book by March first, but this journey is mine, entirely of my own choosing. I’m not being forced to sit at my computer and try to spin a story. Like the Magi, I’m following my own star. Who knows where it will lead?
Believe it or not, that little insight has helped me many times since then. May your Epiphany be rich with discovery, too!