Saturday, March 12, 2011

Happy Moments

Besides some things in my non-write life that I'm stoked about (OMG! Job interview in like... an hour. SQUEE!) not much has been happening. Which lets me focus on working (note: fighting ) with my WIP. Today I finished another chapter ( 33K in and still rollin') and when I got to the end of the chapter, I placed in a high moment for my characters, which is my FAVORITE kind of writing.

I know. WTF? I don't write comedy. I don't write happy go lucky stuff. If you've been following my blog, you'll know I'm an optimist with a fascination with war, famine, death, racism, sexism, and the like. And I incorporate them all into my novels. I like dark stuff. I love conflict.

But it's because of that love of conflict that writing high moments is so wonderful.

I'm going to backpedal on the terminology here. Partly because my lingo may or may not be made up by yours truly.

A "high moment" in a novel is when your character (usually your POV character) is at a moment of extreme joy. They've gotten the girl! They've won the game! They didn't die fighting the giant sand worm! It's a moment when your characters are happy, despite the shit you've hurled at them left and right.

A "low moment" in contrast is... you guessed it, just the opposite. When your characters are beaten down, depressed, angry, just not around a happy camper.

I throw a lot of crap on my characters during the events of my novels, so naturally, they spend a lot of time down in the dumps. But in my writing I've found it's absolutely important to include high moments. Where your characters crack jokes and just enjoy themselves for once. They don't have to be long. The one I just wrote was about two paragraphs long, and it was two characters who had just survived a car crash. One cracked a joke and then they couldn't stop laughing. It was a high moment for them. They were happy to be alive. They found anything funny because they were so relieved that they made it.

High moments can be silly. They can be funny. They can just be ridiculous. A high moment in another novel I wrote included the characters beating each other with wet clothing.

I think I need to stress this now, however: High moments are for your characters, not for your readers.

I'm not making sense? Well, that's because I never make sense. Observe:

“Morning Seth,” Arthur said, breaking off his conversation with Dahlia and climbing to his feet. He looked stupidly bright for so early. Damn morning people. “How’d you sleep?”

“Coffee.” Seth pulled open the cupboards and began to shift through them.

“Did you want breakfast?” Arthur asked.

Seth leveled his stare on him. “Coffee.”

“We made tea, if you’d like,” Dahlia said.


This is a scene from my novel. Is this a high point? No. Will the readers be amused? Of course. This is purely for reader benefit to add a little lightness to the scene so the reader isn't dragged down with the darkness of a lot of what happens in the novel.

This is opposed to:

“If it wasn’t for you, I’d be some sort of… of toy to that thing back there. You’ve saved me from a fate worse than death.”

A wicked glint shone in Molly’s eyes. “I said thank me, not go full on chick-flick.”

The joke was lame, but it succeeded in pulling a smile from Arthur. The joy was addicting and it soon spread into laughter. Arthur couldn’t say whether it was the elation of escaping the crash, of being alive, or the need to distract themselves from the heartache ahead, but soon he and Molly were laughing until tears rolled down their faces.

This isn't as amusing to the reader. They may not find Molly's bad joke that funny, but that's okay. They don't have to. What this scene is supposed to do is not only lighten the darkness a bit, but also instill a sense of fondness in the reader. If you've done your job as a writer and your characters are sympathetic, then this should instill them with a caring for the characters. You feel more likened to them. It's bittersweet, because the reader knows that they're not going to be happy anytime soon, but you feel glad that they could have a few moments of happiness before things go to hell.

High moments should be spaced throughout the novel. Right after a mildly tragic event is good, but if you really want to hit the reader where it hurts, put it before a major tragedy. In another novel I have a scene where two characters are arguing about swear words (makes sense in context, I promise) right before one of them dies. It's amusing on the first read through, but on the second it's sad, because you know this is the last time they'll have fun together.

Even if you're not writing YA, these high moments are important. Because your characters are people. They have happy moments and sad moments and they're going to try to make the best out of their situation. They help create reader sympathy. If your characters are dorky and are messing around, they're going to connect well with your dorky readers.

Find dark spots in your manuscript. Are they heavy dark spots? Place a happy moment beforehand. Are they just bumps in the road for your character? Try it afterwards. Read it all together and see what works and what doesn't. Experiment, because writing is hands-on learning. Your characters, and your readers, deserve a pick-me-up every once in a while.



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