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Monday
Aug172009

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. (By the way, did anyone see True Blood last night? Talk about raising the temperature, whew. :) But I digress.)
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?

 

Reader Comments (5)

Moments definitely make a book. It's interesting you mention Knocked Up, written by Judd Apatow. We saw his most recent movie Funny People and I found it was comprised of a lot of good moments. Great characters and a great story...until the end. I've found that his movies are realistic but not quite as satisfying as I like my movies to be.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Faris

I love those moments! I hope I have some of them in my book. I definitely want my readers to remember it.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLazy Writer

I hope, hope some of them are there...I think my current novel aims for some heartfelt moments and some laughter. Good things to think about and focus on!

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTess

Nice summary of moments. Last year, I saw THE SHINING for the first time since I was a teenager, and that scene still completely freaked me out. Eek! We do need these things in our novels. Thanks for reminding us!

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDawn VanderMeer

I LOVE this list. In fact I'm pulling out one of my handy blank notecards and am jotting them down! And that sounds like a great book. I'll have to search it down!

I think unintentionally I've been able to put these types of moments into my novels. But I'd love to be even more intentional about them. Thanks for getting my juices going!

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJody Hedlund

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