How do you twist the critical moment in your plot?

Rhett looked like he gave a damn, but he didn't.
Rhett looked like he gave a damn, but he didn’t.

THE MUSE WAS WAITING for me when I came in this morning.

Don’t know when he woke up.

Have no idea when he arrived.

But I knew he had something important to say.

The Muse only bothers to show up when he does.

“Tell me about your plot,” he said.

I smiled.

“I have a lot of plots and subplots in a novel,” I said.

I felt cocky.

He wasn’t impressed.

“Only one counts,” he said.

The smile faded.

So did the arrogance.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“All good novels revolve around one single moment,” he said. “The other plots are little more than window dressing.”

“What would you call that moment?” I asked.

“The big one,” he said.

The Muse knew good writing from bad.

He wasn’t very creative on his own.

“It’s the moment that makes or breaks your story,” he said.

“Twist it right,” he said, “and people will talk about it for a long time.”

The Muse shrugged.

“Twist it wrong,” and nobody will remember your book.”

Now I was worried.

My mind was spinning.

Did I have a moment like that in my novels?

The Muse explained.

“Do you remember Gone With the Wind?” he asked.

I did.

“Remember Scarlett?”

“She was a real beauty.”

“Remember Rhett Butler?”

“He was a real scoundrel.”

“What is the single moment you remember most?”

I grinned.

That was easy.

This is what I told him. “When Rhett looked down into Scarlett’s eyes and said, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’”

The Muse leaned back in the sofa and propped up his boots on my coffee table.

“That’s the moment,” he said.

I nodded.

“Tell me something,” he said.

“What’s that?’

“Would you remember the story if Rhett had given a damn?”

“Probably not.”

The plot had been twisted.

It was twisted at just the right point.

It was twisted just the right way.

Maybe Rhett didn’t give a damn.

We did.

The moment worked.

“Remember High Noon?” the Muse asked.

“Sure.”

“What was the key moment?”

“That’s easy,” I said.

“Tell me.”

“When Gary Cooper strapped on his pistols, kissed his new wife, maybe for the last time, and walked out into the street to face the bad guys.”

“The odds were against him.”

“They were.”

“He could have died,” the Muse said.

“He expected to.”

“He was willing to face death to preserve his honor.”

“He was.”

“No tell me something,” the Muse said.

“What’s that?”

“What would you have done if Garry Cooper decided to do the smart thing?”

“He didn’t have a choice.”

“Sure he did.” The Muse laughed. “He could have packed up his clothes, snuck down the backstairs with his beautiful new bride, climbed on a buckboard, changed his name, and run away for parts unknown.”

“He would have killed the story,” I said.

The Muse nodded.

“One single moment is critical above all others,” he said. “Twist the plot right, and you have a winner. Twist it wrong, and you might as well throw your manuscript away. The readers will.”

“How do I know whether my plot twist works?” I asked.

“Read your story.”

I nodded.

“Then ask yourself one question.”

“Okay.”

“Does the ending disappoint you, or are you glad you read the book.”

The Muse closed his eyes.

“Your answer will tell you everything you need to know,” he said.

I started to ask one last question.

It was too late.

The Muse was already asleep.

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  • There is NO problem identifying that moment – and just the thought of getting there again in the writing/editing makes me grin.

    Everything before that leads to it – everything after it is practically pre-ordained – and that moment is the reason for the whole story.

    All storytelling is concerned with setting that point up without giving it away, and then not pulling any punches when it’s time to write it.

    It’s a good compass, too – if you don’t know if something belongs in the book, just ask yourself whether it precipitates that perfect moment, or is precipitated BY it. That moment is chemical change.

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