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This Magic Moment*


What separates a novel from being just good to being great? We can talk about plot points and characterizations and originality. All of those things, of course, count for a lot. However, what seems to really define the difference for me is if I remember parts of the book (or movie) for years to come. I could enjoy a book, feel drawn in, feel satisfied when I'm done, but if you ask me in a year or two and I can't remember much about it, then maybe the book wasn't great (or maybe I'm my long term memory is just getting worse--always a possibility.)

So that got me to thinking about what makes a novel particularly memorable. In Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb's Your First Novel (a great resource, btw), they argue that a novel is memorable because of the moments an author creates. They define five main types of moments that make a story stick with us for long after we've closed the book.

1. Opening Hearts
These are the moments that are either filled with joy or sorrow. These are often the heartbreaking moments that make us cry.
ex.) In Titanic when Rose has to let go of Jack's hand in the water. In Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead.
2. Instilling Fear
These are the moments that scare the bejesus out of us. These scenes are the ones that make us get up to check and make sure that we've locked the front door.
ex.) In the movie The Ring when the little girl steps out of the tv. In Stephen King's (who is the master at this type of moment) The Shining when the wife finds the stacks of typed pages that say "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
3. Raising the Temperature
These moments, for lack of a more delicate way of putting it, turn us on. This doesn't necessarily mean sex; it could be a simple kiss, but it hits a hot button.
Ex.) In the Mortal Instruments series, the scene with Jace and Clary in the fairy court. In Charlaine Harris' Sookie books, (hmm, there are so many, where to start), I'll say in the fourth one Dead to the World, the shower scene with Sookie and Eric.
4. Getting a Laugh
These are the moments that make us laugh out loud while we're reading, even though we're in the middle of the airport and everyone turns to look at us. My husband gets particularly annoyed with me when I hit these in a book because he feels left out on the joke.
ex.) In Knocked Up when the friend walks into the delivery room and she screams in her most demonic voice for him to get out.
5. Winning Victories
This is the part of the book that we're all waiting for. The hero gets the girl/guy, the murder is solved, the bad guy is caught/killed, the war is won, etc.
Ex.) The examples are all over the place. Every book and movie has one of these, it's the climax. But the key is to make the reader really care about getting there. We have to feel personally invested in the outcome. If not, we're left cold.

So what do you think? Do you have these in your own book? Are these types of moments what make you remember a story? Also, what are some of your favorite moments that stayed with you long after the end of the book or movie?

**REPOSTED from 8/17/09**

**Today's Theme Song**
"This Magic Moment"-- The Drifters
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


Reader Comments (16)

ahhh, there's so many moments that stay with me. But the book I can't seem to get out of my head is the Vampire Academy: Blood Promise. Seriously, this book broke my heart more than New Moon in the Twilight Saga. (i'm a paranormal lover so excuse my constant references to them.) To this day, I wonder what's going ot happen in the next installment and I swoon over the memories that she drags up of her and Dimitri. So heartbreaking.

My own novel isn't much romance wise and she only gets to kiss her teacher to keep in out of harm's way. But, I think mine has plenty of humorous moments and twists that have made my beta-readers say they had no idea the killer who be such and such.

P.S.--Titanic has to be the best movie ever. I've literally seen it eighty or so times. Sad, huh?

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAsh. Elizabeth

What a great list to focus on when developing a story.

I just read a YA novel that I think will stick with me for a long time. It has all of these characteristics:

The Chosen One
by Carol Lynch Williams

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Greci

I think what makes things great is that you either laugh, cry, or get excited when you think of them.

Great post.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

I know my WIP has made people cry, and apparently there is one line that had loads of people laugh out loud (although it was in there as a "placer" until I came up with something clever. I left it in). I hope there was a winning victory.

Unfortunately I can't do humour when I want to. I have huge respect for people that can write comedy, or even just pull off the cracking one liner.

As for the steamy scenes...never tried to write them, I get distracted at the thinking stage, lol!

Great post Roni :-)

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGemma Noon

So true! I don't know that I've ever considered why I remember some and not others... :D this is a great way to think about my stories.

Thanks for reposting.
Take care.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBethanne

Important post Roni. Once again I will be bookmarking it. Thank you.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTabitha Bird

Thanks so much for reposting this list, Roni. Truly helpful as I embark on my long-delayed revision. In the current version of my novel, I think I have a few memorable moments - at least, moments that make me gasp or swoon every time I read them.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Martone

P.S. And as for examples in movies, TV shows, and books, the list could go on and on. Many of yours are excellent examples. TITANIC makes me feel all those emotions (sorrow, fear, heat, laughter, and victory) every time I see it. If only she'd given the diamond to Bill Paxton (instead of tossing it into the ocean) - then it would've been perfect. ;-)

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Martone

I also like the quiet moments where the character seems to read more into themselves, like that moment in Titanic when she looks over at the little girl in the restaurant where the mother is telling the little girl to sit up straight.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

I love when Molly Weasley yells at Bellatrix, "Stay away from my daughter, you b$@#%!"

And I love the seelie court with Jace...mmmm...

And I love the moment Katniss finds out that Peeta has a crush on her, right before they go into the arena to kill each other.


November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTina Lynn

Great post. I hope my story will have these moments for other people. I know they are there for me. Moments I remember when Anne and Gilbert finally get together.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara McClendon

The moment that comes to mind is in "Pride and Prejudice" when Mr. Darcy comes home unexpectedly and finds Elizabeth visiting his home. Sigh.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBethany Wiggins

What an awesome post - as always, Roni!

I'll never forget the moment in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas when we find out Nicholas was with her in the car. :( I think it scarred me for life!

I thought I was ready for anything in The Maze Runner, and then the doors don't close at night...oooh, so worrisome!

There are tons of those freaky fear moments in the Last Apprentice series (you should read these if haven't yet)

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon O'Donnell

Ash, I'm going to have to give the vamp academy books another chance. I read the first and thought it was okay, but didn't really entice me to read more. But a lot of people love them, so maybe I needed to give it another book.

Paul, haven't heard of that one, will have to check it out.

Patti, I totally agree. :)

Gemma, you and i could get together and write the perfect book. My strength is the humor and the steam, but I have trouble with the sad moments. Together, we'd be unstoppable, lol.

Bethanne, thanks for stopping by the blog and following. :)

Tabitha, thanks, i love being bookmarked :)

Laura, good luck with your revisions! and I agree with you about Titanic.

Oddy, great point, those quiet moments can be super powerful

Tina, oh Jace and the Seelie court, I'll sigh along with you. :)

Tara, thanks and I'm sure they will. :) And I haven't forgotten about reading your stuff, btw. Things have been crazy.

Bethany, welcome to the blog and thanks for joining!

Shannon, thanks and I'll have to check out the Last Apprentice serious, I'm not familiar with those.

Hope you all have a great thanksgiving tomorrow!

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Opening Hearts: Does it count if you cry when you're writing a scene, and every time you edit it. Or am I just plain pathetic?

Great post! I read this book but had forgotten all these points. Guess I better read it again. ;-)

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStina Lindenblatt

Stina, definitely not pathetic. I got choked up when writing one of my scenes and I still get all hot and bothered when I read some of the love scenes I've written, lol. Now THAT's pathetic.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

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