So...I want you all to take a few seconds, and think about your life in it’s entirety.
Your entire life, as a whole. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood. How do you envision it in your mind? Do you think about that day you picked up some extra eggs and milk from the grocery store? Do you think about the night you sat on the couch and watched TV for six hours straight? Or maybe you’re thinking about that gas bill you paid, or that time you got a parking ticket? Hehehe, you might be, I don’t know. But I’m willing to bet that it’s unlikely.
I like to think of life as a series of ‘moments’. In order to think back on our memories, we have to tell ourselves a story. This is what happened, and where it happened, and how it happened. And when we tell ourselves that story, it usually comes in the form of the bigger, more influential, moments and experiences that we’ve had in the past. The major events that stand out in our minds are the ones we have the clearest recollections of. I couldn’t tell you every slice of pizza that I’ve ever had...but I could tell you about being on a date with a really cute guy and sharing a pizza with him. Because that was a significant moment that stands out in my mind, and one that made me tuck it away in the back of my mind to think about later and smile. It holds a specific meaning for me. It’s a moment worthy of being a part of my personal highlight reel, because it is more than just something that I remember...it’s a part of who I am.
When you’re writing a story, being able to effectively create these moments in the lives of your characters can truly make your work stand out as well. It’s all about picking your moments and using them to their full advantage. Naturally, you want your entire story to be well written and edited down to a point where everything has a certain significance, value, and purpose...but choosing to focus on just a few big moments can really enhance your story as a whole. It defines the theme, the tone, and the development of your characters, in a way that will be both exciting and memorable.
So this week, I’d like to talk about the creation of defining moments in our fiction.
When I talk about moments, even if they’re happening to the same person or people in the same work of fiction, I believe that each moment should be able to stand alone as a story all its own. To use the “Billy Chase” story as an example...that massive story is about to get its 450th chapter, and even people who have read it more than once could possibly remember the entire thing. Lord knows, I can’t do it. But there are certain ‘moments’ throughout the series that readers can remember fondly (Or not so fondly) by certain situations and lessons that were learned along the way from beginning to end. Maybe they think about mistakes that he made, or big revelations that were discovered, or that very first kiss with another boy, or his parents’ divorce. The question, however...is that if you were to take any one of those moments, and write it as a stand alone story, and then give it to someone who has absolutely no idea who Billy Chase is and has never heard of him before...can that ONE moment in time still make for a good story? If so, then it’s a moment worth the glare of the spotlight. And that’s where you can truly grip your readers and keep them invested in the story as a whole. Everything that led up to that moment, and everything that is sure to follow it.
Down below is a little video that I’m adding for fun. And while it’s all done for some highly exaggerated grins and giggles...it does demonstrate my point. Movies, books, TV shows, theatrical plays...they all have certain defining moments that, when done well, can really bring you to the edge of your seat. And it does NOT have to just be in the climax either. It can be anywhere in your project where it feels natural, and creates momentum to take things up a notch. It can be the first major showdown between your protagonist and his or her main rival. It can be a big surprise, or a major reveal, or the act of turning the tide in a battle that seemed hopeless. They’re the moments that uplift you when you bear witness to them, and they stick out in your mind to the point where you and your friends will think back and say, “Remember that one part, when…?”
Take a look! Besides...the Avengers theme song just makes EVERYTHING a little bit more epic! LOL!
Hehehe, as a side note, it’s kind of funny once you pay attention to it...but every time one of these moments happens in a movie, there’s always a cut to somebody’s shocked face! Like, “Omigod...WTF is going on right now?” It’s just sort of a film thing. A shocked face or a cheering crowd...or both. But, I can’t lie...it still gets me every time!
Now...these were all action based movies, animations, or video games...but your defining moments don’t have to be that over the top. The theme song is merely signaling you to say, ‘This is it! This is the moment that will take you readers to a whole other level!’ And it doesn’t need to be gunfire and explosions. It can be a great act of courage on the part of your protagonist. It can be the realization of a secret. It can be the simple act of your antagonist finally getting what he deserves, or getting a taste of his own medicine. It could be a severe break up, or finally balling up a fist to blacken the school bully’s eye, or feeling the rush of hearing the words ‘I like you too’ for the very first time. It’s all about creating special moments and giving your readers something to experience that they can hold on to, even long after the story is over. They can have memories of these moments as if it happened to them, personally. And that will give your story a longevity that even the best quality writing can’t imitate on its own.
So, when I think about these big moments in my own work, I try to break it down into three simple pieces. Premise, Promise, and Payoff. Very easy to remember, very easy to pull off as long as you’re thinking about these things ahead of time. The Premise is simple...what is it that you want to happen to your main or supporting character, and how can you introduce it to your readers? More importantly, what impact will this defining moment have on your story? A defining moment has to ‘define’ something, after all, right? So what direction are you trying to take your story in? Maybe you have a closeted gay college boy, and you want him to finally meet and talk to the guy he’s been infatuated with from day one. There’s a moment there. How will you go about setting that up? In that same story, they may go on their first date, and end up kissing at the end of the night. There’s another moment. Maybe they fall in love, and the main character decides to take his new boyfriend home for the holidays and come out to his parents. Another moment. These are all things that we as writers should be thinking about ahead of time. Know where you want your moments to take place in your story, and then use the ‘Premise’ part of the equation to present the initial building blocks to your audience.
‘Promise’? This is merely the act of stringing a series of events together to make the journey to the defining moment more interesting. I’ll admit...this part can be fun. Hehehe! It’s true. This is where you can set up certain scenarios and tease your readers into wanting to jump ahead to the big reveal...but you don’t give it to them. Not just yet. Think of it like...spinning the crank on a Jack-In-The-Box. You know that the clown is going to pop out at some point. That’s a ‘promise’. But half the fun is not knowing when it’s going to happen. A little suspense, a few close calls, maybe some awkward conversations or missed opportunities...these are all tools that you can use to wind your audience up, and put them edge for that final crank before the clown pops out. You’re making them a promise...and you’re going to stick to it, right?
Unless you’ve got some huge plot twist planned and decide to throw a monkey wrench in the works somewhere along the way! Hehehe, there’s a moment there too, if that’s the way you want to go!
And finally….the ‘Payoff’! The big moment is here! Inner strength has been revealed. New answers have been given and new questions are left to be asked. Confessions have been made, lines have been drawn in the sand, arguments reach their boiling point…this is the moment of shock and awe and joy and sadness that your readers have been waiting for since you set up the premise and made the promise in the first place. ::Cue The Avengers Theme::
This part can sometimes be a little intimidating (At least for me it is), because a soggy payoff can really damage a really great story if it doesn’t meet reader expectations. That’s not to say that you should write, specifically, for reader expectations...just make a serious attempt to make the defining moments in your story add up to what you promised they would be. You spent all of that time setting it up, why not deliver the end product with a bang?
Basically, we all remember moments from our favorite movies and games and, yes, from our very lives. Take a few minutes and really think about what made those moments special to you. Why you hold on to those memories, and how they make you feel. Having just two or three of those memorable moments in your writing can really boost reader involvement, and your talents can hit them right in the feels each and every time. The right moments...with strong connective tissue binding them together...can really make a story sing.
Just a little something to think about! I hope you enjoyed this week’s article on Defining Moments! Love you all! And I’ll seezya next week!