In my very first essay for Reading the Wheel of Time, I referenced something a writing teacher once told me about stories—that they all begin with either a boy leaving home, or with a stranger coming to town. In that first piece I observed that, when it comes to The Lord of the Rings-style questing narratives, these two types of story are actually one type, in which a stranger (usually a wise guide, sometimes an enemy, and often both) comes to town, and it results in a boy (or a girl, or a group of young people) leaving home.
What I find so interesting about this structure is the concept of change, and the catalyst of that change, within a narrative. Of course, all stories are about change. Sometimes this change takes place over a moment or a day, other times over years or even a lifetime. The change can be small or large, external or internal, but it is always there—without change nothing has happened, and there is nothing, as they say, for the gleemen to recount. Thus, when we categorize a story into “a stranger comes to town” and “a boy leaves home,” we are actually considering where the catalyst for change comes from, and we are considering where the change, the arc of the story, takes place. In the first example, the world of the story has change brought into it from some outside force. In the second, the protagonist(s) go out into the world and both are forever altered by the experience.
[The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills]