I woke up this morning thinking of the memorable moments in life and how important they were, not only in real life, but in our fictional characters’ lives.
Vivid moments can be a small thing–a touch or connection at the right moment, an instant of shared understanding, a particularly meaningful experience or conversation. Whatever it is, it stays with you, there for you to pull out of your memory in crystallized technicolor clarity to relive again and again.
Some of my vivid moments:
- Gamboling around ancient ruins outside of Tripoli in the year before Gadhafi kicked the Americans out of Libya.
- Watching my father find common ground with a Libyan village mayor, and make friends.
- Balanced on a rock far from the Mediterranean shore, holding a large fish my dad had speared, while I waited for him to come back.
- Riding in the cramped area at the back of our Volkswagen Bug while my Dad challenged me to mathematical headgames.
- Driving across the country in a Volkwagon Bus with parents and three siblings under six, eating peanut butter sandwiches out of white bread and Goober peanut butter and grape, while sticking my head out the little side windows like a dog, so I could breathe while my dad smoked.
- The fear and sheer exhilaration of acting and singing in the lead role of my first musical play.
- Holding my sons for the first time.
- Driving home to another state after three dates with the man who would become “the husband”, and realizing I was falling in love with him.
Your characters need vivid moments, too. Funny moment. Touching moments. An instant of meaning for the character. And not just your main character or characters. If you have other key viewpoint characters in your book, they need to be just as alive and real as your main character. What are their moments?
In my novel, the main character, Sam(antha) agreed to try to find her teenage niece’s friend, who has gone missing. Sam runs into trouble and is trying to talk it out with someone when her niece overhears something out of context, and accuses Sam of giving up.
“You found me. Why not her?”
“Yes, I found you. But it wasn’t by magic. You had a fight with your mom about going to The Caverns, and left the house right after that. It was a good bet that’s where you were going. Plus, your dad has a GPS application set to find your phone as long as it’s on.”
“He what! That’s not fair!”
Out of patience, Sam surged to her feet. “Welcome to real life, Caitlyn. It’s not fair. Sometimes it sucks big time, and friends get hurt or disappear or worse. Let’s be clear about the sequence of events, though. You made a choice to go to The Caverns, and then went off with a boy you didn’t know. Danielle made a choice to leave with people she hardly knew instead sticking by you. The only reason I came along in the nick of time is because you had parents who loved you so much they made a choice to tag your phone to keep you safe. So before you go work yourself into a lather and take it out on your parents, think about what would have happened if they didn’t do that.”
Face drained of color, Caitlyn lowered her head.
Sam reached out and tipped up her chin so their gazes met again. “I’m doing my best to find your friend. I haven’t given up. Got it?”
Caitlyn nodded. “Yeah.”
This and several other critical moments between Caitlyn and Sam cause Caitlyn to look outside of herself and realize she needs to take responsibility for her actions instead of blaming it on everyone else. Because our lives are full of moments, my characters experience them, too.
So here’s my challenge to you. Look at your writing and see find the vivid moments for your characters.
Found them? Great!
Didn’t find them? No worries. Look to the critical moments in your story, where the character is lost or alone, needs guidance, or is struggling to make a decision. Then, give them a moment–a reason to care, to find the will to take that next step. For the last step, compare the new text to the old. Which is more powerful and meaningful?
See? You just made a vivid moment. Happy writing.