The 6 Scenes Every Worldview Novel Needs
In today's post, I'm covering the obligatory scenes of the worldview genre. If you're writing a young adult novel or a story in which a character goes through a major life change, then this post is for you!
I’m also going to show you how these six key scenes manifest in three popular movies—The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Juno, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Why movies? Why not books?
Well, the simple answer is that movies require less time investment than books. I’m hoping that if you haven’t seen these movies, you’ll watch them after reading this post to help cement these key scenes in your mind.
But before we get into the conventions of the worldview genre, let’s go over some basics.
What makes a Worldview story?
Worldview stories focus on a period in the character’s life where he or she is transitioning from one significant state to another.
These stories show how life forces a character to grow and change, and awaken to a new understanding of themselves, or the world around them.
A lot of young adult novels fall into this genre because YA stories are about characters who are about to “come of age,” or transition from youth into adulthood.
But not all worldview stories need to feature a teenage protagonist who’s coming of age. I’m sure we’ve all met a few adults who have some kind of growing up to do, right?
Regardless of the protagonist's age, these stories usually end with the same realization: life’s not going to change, so I better change instead.
And usually, this change is for the better, making the protagonist a stronger, more capable person with a new appreciation for the life ahead of them.
Beyond that, worldview stories can have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have various levels of romance, adventure, mystery, or magic.
They can include different subplots as long as the protagonist’s internal change, their transition from one life stage to another, remains the focus of the story.
Why do people read Worldview stories?
Life doesn’t always give us what we want, right? We’ve all been kicked in the butt by life at one point or another–death, puberty, divorce, midlife crisis, losing a job, the growing pains of adolescence…
We’ve all experienced some kind of “life problem” that has forced us to stop in our tracks and re-examine who we are and what we value in order to move forward.
Worldview stories give readers a glimpse into how other people deal with and survive these “roadblocks.” They give readers a sense of relief, satisfaction, and maybe even hope that they, too, can survive whatever roadblocks appear in their lives.
The beauty of these stories is that when the protagonist discovers something about themselves, the reader ultimately discovers something about themselves too. Not only does the protagonist grow and change, but the reader might grow and change a little bit, too.
In other words, these stories are universal because life is universal.
And like all genre fiction, you have to deliver the obligatory scenes and conventions readers are expecting in order to give them the emotional experience they’re hoping for.
What are Obligatory Scenes and Conventions?
Conventions are a reasonably well-defined set of roles, settings, events, and values that are specific to a genre. They are things that readers intuitively expect to be present in a work of genre fiction whether they consciously realize it or not.
Obligatory scenes are the key events, decisions, and discoveries that move the protagonist along on his or her journey. These key scenes are what help you evoke emotional reactions in the reader. And, when coupled with your genre’s conventions, will give the reader the experience they’re looking for.
So, what are the conventions of the Worldview genre?
Let’s take a look (warning–spoilers ahead!):
The Obligatory Scenes of the Worldview Genre are:
#1. The Protagonist’s Worldview is Challenged Scene
The first key scene your worldview story needs is a scene in which some kind of opportunity or circumstance challenges the protagonist’s belief and/or their understanding of how the world works. In a lot of cases, the protagonist accepts this opportunity or challenge because they have no choice. But in some cases, they accept this opportunity or challenge because it holds the promise of an escape from whatever pain they’re harboring inside.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie has a hard time making friends because he believes that if people really knew him, they wouldn’t like him. Charlie hopes that by making friends this school year, he will escape the pain of what happened to him as a child, and overcome his depression. His worldview is challenged when he sits with Patrick and Sam at the football game, and they invite him to Kings afterward.
- In Juno, Juno has never accepted or dealt with the feeling she has about her mother’s abandonment. In order to not ever feel that kind of pain again, Juno employs a defense mechanism (acting like an adult and being super “cool”) to keep people at arm’s length. She believes that as an adult, you can do whatever you want, act however you want, and that you don’t need to trust or rely on anybody but yourself. This worldview is challenged when Juno sleeps with Bleeker and gets pregnant with his child.
- In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy believes it’s too late for him to start a relationship or find love. He also believes he’s terrible at all this sexual because of a bad experience in his past. When his coworkers find out that he’s still a virgin, they offer to help Andy lose his virginity. Andy agrees to try whatever they suggest because deep down, he really does want love.
#2. The Protagonist Commits to the Wrong Thing Scene
The second key scene your worldview story needs is a scene in which the protagonist commits to the wrong thing. And by this, I mean that the protagonist usually commits to pursuing his or her “want,” or whatever thing they think will make them happy. So, at this point, they’re ignorant to what they really need, or to what will really make them feel happy and fulfilled. In some cases, the protagonist is even faced with an opportunity to get what he or she needs, but they reject this opportunity to pursue the thing they want.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie accidentally gets high and tells Sam about his best friend who committed suicide last year. He gets nervous about Sam’s reaction and excuses himself to the bathroom. Sam realizes that Charlie has no other friends, so she and Patrick make a special effort to bring Charlie into their group. Charlie feels like he’s finally found a place where he’s accepted, with people who are not judgemental. But in reality, Charlie needs to accept himself and stop judging himself for things in his past he can’t control.
- In Juno, Juno decides not to have an abortion and to put the baby up for adoption instead. She finds a couple in the newspaper who are looking for a baby and shares her plan with her parents. Juno thinks that by putting the baby up for adoption, she will gain back her freedom and can continue trying her best to be an adult.
- In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy meets Trish and gets her phone number. He doesn’t call her because of some bad advice he gets from his friends. His friends basically tell him to find “practice girls” to date and hook up with before he dates a girl like Trish. Andy agrees to go along with their plan because he’s so insecure about being a virgin.
#3. The Protagonist Ignores the Truth Scene
The third key scene you’ll want to include in your worldview story is a scene in which the protagonist ignores the truth or the lesson of the story. So, in most cases, whatever strategy the protagonist has been trying to use hasn’t been working and it’s time to try something else. Usually, the protagonist will see part (or all) of the truth, but they’ll decide to ignore it and will continue to cling onto their outdated worldview instead.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie and Sam discuss relationships and Charlie admits his feelings for Sam. Sam tells Charlie that she was sexually assaulted by her father’s boss as a child. Charlie tells Sam that he’s never been kissed. Sam kisses him because she wants his first kiss to be with someone he loves (unlike her first kiss experience). Charlie tells Sam that his Aunt Helen was also sexually assaulted and that she was able to turn her life around afterward. He embraces his outdated worldview by telling Sam that Aunt Helen was his favorite person in the world. After they kiss, Charlie starts having flashbacks to the night his Aunt Helen died.
- In Juno, Juno visits Mark and Vanessa’s home to show them the ultrasound pictures, but Vanessa isn’t home. Mark gets a little more aggressive with his flirtation which should show Juno that he's not as "cool" as she thinks), but she ignores it. When Juno shows the ultrasound picture to Vanessa, Juno realizes Vanessa will be a good mother (something Juno never had). She sees the truth about both Mark and Vanessa here, but can’t internalize it because she still thinks Mark is cool and Vanessa is more or less a square.
- In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy realizes that he’s not happy following the advice of his friends, trying to find random women to hook up with. He finally decides to ask Trish out on a date, and she says yes. He’s not willing to tell her the whole truth about himself and basically hides everything in his apartment to cover up his true self.
#4. The Protagonist Can’t Run from the Truth Anymore Scene
The fourth key scene you’ll want to include in your worldview story is a scene in which the protagonist can’t run from the truth anymore. So, this is when the protagonist faces some kind of failure or disappointment that leads to the realization that he or she must change. Their outdated worldview has protected them thus far, but now -- because of whatever has happened -- there’s no going back to the way things used to be. They can no longer avoid changing.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, when Charlie realizes that what Aunt Helen did to him is the same thing that Sam’s dad’s boss did to her, he has a breakdown. He can no longer hide from the truth and calls his sister for help.
- In Juno, Juno learns that Mark is leaving Vanessa and questions whether or not to continue with the adoption. She finally realizes that Mark isn’t this “cool-guy adult” that she’s been painting him to be in her mind. Juno also learns that Bleeker has asked someone else to prom and she’s upset (even though she made it clear that she didn’t want to date Bleeker).
- In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy and Trish get in a fight because Andy isn’t willing to sleep with her and have her learn the truth about him being a virgin. They go their separate ways, and Andy realizes that he loves Trish so much that it’s worth the risk.
#5. The Protagonist Embraces the Truth Scene
The fifth key scene you’ll want to include in your worldview story is a scene in which the protagonist finally embraces the truth. And this is the big event that the story has been leading up to. So, after realizing that they must change, the protagonist now accepts the truth and sheds his or her outdated worldview. This acceptance is what allows the character to change priorities and acquire the thing they “need” instead of the thing they “wanted.”
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie is put into a mental hospital where he has to fully face and accept what his Aunt Helen did to him as a child. Once he accepts this truth and tells his therapist and his friends and family, he gets the support he needs as he heals. He starts to understand himself and why he is the way he is.
- In Juno, Juno has the baby and decides to go through with the adoption even though Vanessa is now a single parent. She also realizes that Bleeker is actually the cool one that she loves, not Mark. Juno and Bleeker start dating.
- In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy finally admits to Trish that he’s still a virgin. Trish accepts his truth, and they get back together.
#6. The Protagonist’s Loss of Innocence is Rewarded Scene
The sixth key scene is a scene in which the protagonist’s loss of innocence is rewarded. So, once the protagonist sheds their outdated worldview, they are rewarded with a deeper understanding of life. These stories don’t always end with a “happily ever after,” but rather with a new beginning or a sense that there’s a lot of life yet to be lived. We see that the protagonist can now enter into this next phase of life empowered by the truth instead of hiding from it.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie says that he’s still working on himself, but that he feels hopeful and ready to tackle his Sophomore year.
- In Juno, Juno’s experience with her pregnancy has helped her to finally feel grounded in the family she does have. She no longer worries about the family she doesn't have (the mom that abandoned her). She can finally reclaim her adolescence and settle into being a teenager.
- In The 40 Year Old Virgin, Andy loses his virginity on the night of his and Trish’s wedding. He’s happy and no longer insecure and lonely.
You're probably thinking, "This is so obvious! Tell me something I don't know!" But seriously, you'd be surprised how many first drafts I see that are missing these key moments.
These are the scenes that readers come to worldview stories for.
Everyone wants to see the moment where the protagonist finally embraces the truth that's been staring them in the face for the whole story, right? Can you imagine a worldview story without that scene? It just wouldn't be the same.
So, don't leave these key scenes out!
Find a way to give the reader what they want, in new and unexpected ways, and you'll gain fans for life. Many great coming-of-age stories stick with us because they include these key scenes in an innovative way. You can do this, too!
👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Are you writing a worldview novel? How do you come up with innovative ways to deliver the obligatory scenes of the genre?