By Pat Cunningham
You know what I’m talking about. You’re reading a book, or watching TV or a movie, when suddenly there’s an incident or a plot twist that widens your eyes and makes your fist fly up to your mouth and you go, “Oh my god, they did not just do that.” And you sit there stunned, wondering what the characters are going to do about this.
A comic book writer referred to this as the Holy **** Moment. It’s meant to surprise the reader/viewer, add punch to the scene or story, and generally ramp up the excitement. It can also spice up a flagging plot, but since we’re all such great writers here we know we don’t need to do that.
I recall, way back in the 70s when the “new” X-Men really were new, the first time Wolverine popped his claws out of his hands. It’s old hat now, but back then it came as a shock. They weren’t part of his costume? They were part of his skeletal system? Holy ****!
Think of the shower scene in Psycho. Or JR Ewing and the sound of gunshots on the season ender of Dallas. Or Darth Vader revealing the results of his paternity test in The Empire Strikes Back. Or (30 years later, and I still remember the shock I experienced at this one) Radar entering the operating theater and shakily announcing the fate of Col. Henry Blake on MASH. Holy ****s, one and all.
Here’s a goodie from Heroes: Peter and Noah go after a rogue talent. The kid has a gun. Fortunately, Peter has borrowed Hiro’s time-and-space warping powers. The kid shoots. Peter stops time. He looks down at the bullet, frozen harmlessly in the air … amid a spray of blood from the exit wound in his spine.
Cut to commercial.
I’m trying to think of some from books. All that comes to mind right now is Gandalf’s alleged death in The Fellowship of the Ring. A powerful main character gets offed in the middle of the book? Now what are they gonna do? Stephen King pulled one in 'Salem's Lot when he killed the hero's girlfriend and turned her into a vampire. You never kill the hero's girlfriend! How can you have a happy ending if you kill the hero's girlfriend? Holy ****, Steve!
I’m trying to craft one of my own. I’ve got my Main Character and the Boyfriend. I’ve scattered clues here and there that suggest Boyfriend may have an unsavory past. About halfway through the story somebody relates a tale that indirectly touches on those clues. There’s a big revelation scene later on, but at that particular point I’m hoping the reader puts it together and goes, “OMG, Boyfriend could be -----, and MC doesn’t know it! What’s MC going to do when they find out? Holy ****!”
How about you guys? Can you think of any moments like these in books you’ve read, so I can see how other writers set it up? Or have you written some yourself, and how did you handle it? Inquiring minds want to know. Happy ****ing!