Monday, May 17, 2010

The Holy **** Moment

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!


Paris said...

The first time I saw "The Usual Suspects" I was totally blown away by the ending. I didn't expect that ending! Would something like that work? If everyone involved had something to do with a revenge plot by the villain?

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, Pat, great, insightful and powerful blog.

Your plot sounds impact-fabulous.

You've described that holy **** moment perfectly.

I have mixed feelings over that moment. One, it can be so evocative it draws me in, and I go... oh no! now what the hell?... or, in some cases I just go, okay, they pulled that out of their hats just to create interest, instead of actually improving the storyline. At that point, it becomes tiresome for me. And my brain just turns it off.

Since, I'm mostly a pantser, those smaller holy impact moments hit me between the eyes as I'm writing... or, occasionally, that plot point will just pop up before I write it. At times, it will be the basis for the story, itself, or starts the story.

I think every story has its own organically-grown flow... if the holy **** moment works, all the better. If it doesn't, forcing it doesn't work, imo.

In my latest WIP, I was in the middle of penning a sex/passion scene... my witch and her hellhounds are rotating in the air... I won't say exactly the positions they were in... suffice it to say, Kandy was told to make a my utter surprise as the author... suddenly she is meeting with her birth mother. Kandace is adopted and has never been able to find her bio parents, despite being a witch.
I don't know how impacting the scene is, but to me, it certainly was.

Pat C. said...

Sav -
"Holy impact moment." I like your term better. It's more family-friendly. I used what I did because that's what the original writer called it.

Rotating in the air? Whoa. Reminds me of an old filk song they used to perform at cons:
(to the tune of "Home on the Range")
Home, home on LaGrange
Where the junk of the system collects
We've achieved, so it seems,
Two of man's greatest dreams
Solar power and zero-G sex
(Gee! Sex!)

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, I luv it!

Anonymous said...

My favorite holy cow moment in a book: When Kim Harrison killed off Kisten in "For a Few Demons More." It gave the story arch all kinds of directions to go, ut i couldn't help thinking "But Rach finally found a bad guy hunk who was good for her!"

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, I would find that sad... like when Buffy *killed* Angel early in series... even, though, he didn't die.