The Importance of the Moment

I was recently asked if I believe “that a story is somehow about the most important episode in a character’s life – the moment (or series of moments) they changed forever?”

Now, that’s a very interesting question, and it’s one that I encourage all writers to ask themselves, but for me, the answer is no. Who am I to decide what the most important moment in my character’s life is?

Let’s step back for a moment (pun intended, weak as it was) and look at a slightly different definition of moment. Engineers use the word to mean the effect of a force that causes a body to turn on an axis. So in this discussion, the word could mean that point in time in which the crucial decision is made (almost what Henri Cartier-Bresson calls “the decisive moment”), or it could mean the sum of the forces that turn your story to its perfect ending.

The story must be about an important moment, yes. It must be about a moment that is so important that the reader feels compelled to find out what happened in that moment, but if you’ve told your story well, there will be enough other moments for that character that he or she can go on living in your reader’s mind. If you’ve told the story so that there will be no more important moments, then you’ve killed the character off just as surely as if you’d had another character do it for you.

It even could be argued that the moment of the story must be the most important moment within the timeline of the story. If you tell the story of a man who is getting married on Saturday afternoon, and you spend forty-five paragraphs having him talk to the “exotic dancer” he managed to talk his best man out of hiring for the stag party on Friday night, breeze through the wedding in four sentences, and end with the groom staring at his office phone on Monday afternoon, you’d better have some very good reasons why that moment is not only more important to the the character, but more important to the reader, as well.

By the way:

Should you ever need to determine the north pole of a planetary body, use the “Right-Hand Rule,” which states that if one curves the fingers of the right hand along the direction of orbital motion, with the thumb extended parallel to the orbital axis, the direction the thumb points is defined to be north.

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