Annie On Writing

April 23, 2010

Heart Wrenching Moments – bringing life into your story.

This article first appeared over at Write Anything

“We don’t remember the days, we remember the moments.” Cesare Pavese

You may have a plot, some characters you are attached to and some interesting scenery for them to wander about in; however there comes a point when writing your story, be it a novel or short story, where things go flat. Most writers will forge ahead, hoping that it will take shape if they continue.

A set of index cards in a file box are a nonli...
A Plot Box.. of sorts

Being a “pantser” I can fully appreciate this sentiment. Plotting can become incredibly complex; especially if you attempt to emulate a favoured authors techniques or rules. An insight I have picked up is that a compelling story, one that forces the reader to continue to turn the pages, is written around a series of Heart Wrenching Moments. In other words, focusing on key points or moments rather than a loosely formed story line.

Heart wrenching moments can take the shape of whole scenes; from a chase to a seduction to a heroic lifesaving attempt. They can also be the “sliding doors” moments within a characters life; where a single decision, event or moment changes their destiny completely.

Living is not measured by the breaths we take but the things that take our breath away.”

Though I am unsure as to who first said this, this quote is one generally used as a call to action for a conscious and fulfilling life by many self development leaders. This can also be a call to action for writers who are searching for a characters heart wrenching moments. The reality is that most peoples lives are filled with the mundane. Even the most daring adventurer or undercover spy has to empty a rubbish bin or wash up once in a while. Your audience aren’t really interested in the brand of soap powder a character uses – unless of course it is then used to make a bomb, carries a secret coded message when used with the socks or is a final clue in an intricate cover up by a multinational company.

If your story needs an injection of life, insert some heart wrenching moments by starting here:

  1. Put your story aside for a moment.
  2. List every heart wrenching moments you can think of from films, other stories and your own life. These are the pivotal moments which evoke strong emotions responses – the horror, the laughter, the tears, the vows to a deity.
  3. Look at each and remember the feelings and emotions you felt when you were exposed to them. This is what you want to create for your audience within your own story.
  4. Now look at your own story. What are the key points? Make a list of Heart Wrenching Moments which either reflect these key moments – or are a direct influence. As you write these, new ones may present themselves.
  5. Arrange these moments onto index cards in a rough order.
  6. Randomly choose a card and begin writing the scene. New courses of action, new characters or decisions may present themselves as you write.
  7. As you write deeper into the scene you are likely to begin building bridges between moments which will bring more elements to enhance your story.

The main point is to focus on the key moments of your characters experience, rather than drag them through a loosely formed story line.

It goes without saying that without well formed characters, a good grasp of writing techniques and a story line your reader can identify with, even the most heart wrenching moments will not save your story from being binned. Writing a page tuner is a craft which can be learnt; though, it doesn’t hurt to have some literary alchemy at your fingertips.


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