I have a list of poignant blog posts that I regularly read because they offer insightful info. In going over my list today, I came across one written by The Intern. Once again, she analyzes the very elements that either make me reach for a contract or a rejection letter. In her post, Intern talks about how main characters eventually experience some sort of triumph or catharsis – what I call The Ta-Da Moment.
They reach that moment of triumph/resolution/catharsis via the buildup – which, in Lynnspeak, is the Charles Darwin Moment – the process by which stories evolve from Point A to Point B.
I mean, how boring is it to read about characters who do nothing, learn nothing, never change, and meet some inglorious, unfulfilling conclusion? Yawn. I watch the beagle do this on a daily basis and it’s hardly riveting stuff.
The “Ta-Da” moment and Charles Darwin moments be mates
I won’t care about a book if the Charles Darwin moments are dull – and I’m betting readers are with me on this one. I look for characters to overcome some fairly big obstacles or cliff-hangy moments. That’s what hooks me. It’s also what makes me care about the “Ta-Da” moment. I look at your ta-da moment as being the proportional result of your buildup. The bigger the Darwin Moments [your lead up], the bigger and more satisfying the Ta-Da – provided you have a good Ta-Da.
Let’s use the example Ms. Main Character who, at 45, works as a data entry clerk for a banana company and still lives with her mother. She decides to chuck it all and move to Spain to take up bull fighting.
Let’s say, for the sake of clarity, that moving to Spain to take up bull fighting is the Ta-Da. Making us care about the Ta-Da depends on how Ms. MC’s evolutionary process – The Darwin Moments – are written. If we aren’t hooked into her buildup, then we won’t care if she moves to Mars and takes up racketball.
Intern wrote that the most satisfying Ta-Da moments happen when the Charles Darwin Moments focus on some fairly big issues – like any one of the following:
-a character had to sacrifice something
-a character had to make a high-stakes choice or moral decision
-a character has tried several other options and failed
-a character has suffered a hard loss or injury over the course of struggling towards a particular goal
-a character has, indeed, been struggling in some way, not floating along easily.
-a character has been forced to change significantly
-a character has undergone real trials and conflicts pertaining to the goal
See? The bigger the lead in, the bigger bang for your buck.
It’s all about the timing, baby
If you let your big Ta-Da moment out of the bag too early in the book, then what’s left? Your book is a journey, a buildup that ends with the pivotal triumph. Anything that comes after tends to be incidental. It’s a lot like cooking Thanksgiving dinner. You spend all day long chopping, drinking, cutting, slicing, dicing, drinking, cooking, basting, drinking, smelling the aroma of hot buttered bird and dressing. Eating the dinner is your triumph – your Ta-Da.
If you eat the dinner too quickly, then all you have left to write about is a few well-placed burps and a date with your favorite antacid. You let the cat out of the bag too early.
Improving Your Query
To wit, this summer’s queries have been, for the most part, very disappointing because they are missing all the key elements that help me determine whether I want to see pages or not – ie. the Charles Darwin Moments. It’s not enough to tell me your Ta-Da, as in “after Mary Sue’s divorce, she overcomes her overindulgence of Twinkies and margaritas and finds happiness in her indpendence.” What are the events that lead up to this? As written, this is a very mundane, overused plot, and the only thing that will slap me upside the head are the Charles Darwin Moments – the events that lead up to the Ta-Da.
I think the quality of query letters would improve if writers remember one simple thing:
the Charles Darwin Moment is the process by which stories evolve from Point A to Point B that lead your MC to the Ta-Da.
Anything else is akin to the beagle stretched out on my desk sipping a frosty margie.