Friday, August 13, 2010

The Defining Moment of a Novel

When writing a novel (or even reading one, for that matter) there is always a particular moment within the tale or storyline that truly defines it. That may be after the central characters are introduced to one another. Or when a conflict is established or resolved. When certain events within the tale converge. The conclusion of the story. Or some other point in time.

Such a defining moment need not correspond to the general direction of the novel. Or a juncture that is supposed to tell you that this is where it happens. The reality is that there are no hard set rules or interpretations of when that moment comes--be it at the beginning, middle, end of the story, or somewhere in between.

As the writer, most of us can tell intrinsically when that defining moment makes the novel what it is. That is the time when all the pieces seem to come together (even if the story still has a long ways to go before being resolved). Where the earth, sun, and moon are perfectly aligned. Where the essence of the story reaches a point where you just know you have got it now with the balance of the book a mere formality in terms of your ability to fill it out once you've gotten past that defining moment.

There is no better feeling as a novelist than when all the hard work that goes into developing three-dimensional characters and plot, setting and conflict, tension and suspense, clues for readers, and the final resolution comes together at a certain point as you write the novel, so that a light bulb flashes in your head and it becomes clear that everything is flowing perfectly just as you had envisioned and it is smooth sailing from that point on.

The same is true as a reader. When you are sitting in your favorite armchair or on the beach in Hawaii so ensconced in this page turner that you can't put down, it only takes looking back to realize that magical point in time when you were truly hooked. Or your interest spiked so that you became a prisoner of the book from that point on, knowing you could not rest till seeing how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together so that you could finally take a deep breath and let it go.

As the author, you have the benefit of knowing what's going to happen and when over the course of the novel. Thus, that defining moment can hit you at any point of process from beginning to end.

I am currently about halfway through the novel I am writing and have yet to come to the defining moment, per se, though I have crossed some "mini moments" along the road leading to that particular point in time when I will feel I am there and, as such, home free in doing what I set out to do in entertaining those who read this book.

Tell me about the defining moment of your novel as a writer. Or when you are reading a novel.

Does it hit you right away? Or do you need to finish writing or reading before backtracking to capture the moment?

What criteria do you use in determining what constitutes such a defining moment of a novel?


Charles Gramlich said...

That's a tough question. I think for me, novels often have several defining moments. The moment when I realize the story has taken on a life of its own, the moment I realize that it can be finished and the ending will be satisfying, the moment when a character begins to act seemingly on their own. Very intersting question. I'll have to give it more thought too.

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

Indeed, there can be more than one defining moment in a book. Or turning points where things click and the plot moves forward smoothly or reaches a satisfying conclusion.

I usually tend to find as a writer and reader that there is only one truly defining moment in a story where things reach a peak, if you will, with a before or after to contend with in making the overall tale work.