Friday, April 3, 2009

Moment of Hope (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about the Moment of Hope. That’s my name for it and you won’t find it in a text book—that I know of. The Moment of Hope is that moment in a novel when we get a surge of hope that the protagonist will succeed. It’s like when you’re watching a young child reaching for a cookie. It’s just out of his reach. If his arms were only a centimeter longer it would be his, but then you see his mother come into the room and you know she’s going to tell him he’ll spoil his dinner. She lifts up the plate and moves it closer to him.

Not ever novel has a Moment of Hope and not every novel needs one. The Moment of Hope is like a pressure release valve. We’ve strung the tension pretty tight and we’re still cranking on the strings. The reader is flipping pages like crazy, wanting to find out what happens next, but he can’t catch his breath. Page after page we build and build and keep building. Then comes the Moment of Hope, giving our reader something to get excited about.

The Moment of Hope can occur many places in a novel and there may be more than one, but they are always an element of the subplots rather than the main plot. They give us hope because if the subplot can succeed then maybe the main plot can too.

One of my favorite examples of the Moment of Hope comes from the movie The Shakiest Gun in the West. The A plot is about a dentist, Don Knotts, going out west to spread dental hygiene. The B plot involves him getting married to a female outlaw who has been offered a pardon it she’ll learn who is running guns to the Indians, but she needs a husband so she can go on the wagon train. She would just as soon be rid of the dentist and he wants a happy marriage, creating very strong tension. The story plays out such that we don’t want her to leave him, but we know he’s powerless to stop her. Don Knotts is no gun fighter, but he thinks he is and he gets involved in a dual with a true gun fighter, after Knotts has wasted all six shots in his gun. The female outlaw watches from a window. She will soon be rid of her convenient husband. Don Knotts stands shaking with an empty gun in his hand as the gun fighter draws. The female outlaw shoots the gun fighter from the window. “What’d you do that for?” her contact asks. “I don’t know,” she says, still holding the smoking gun. “Something just came over me.” She can still leave at any moment and later she does, but in the moment, she gives us hope that she might come to love the dentist and that he isn’t wasting his time fighting to get her back.

That’s what the Moment of Hope is all about. We’ve got to toss the reader a bone once in a while. Yeah, things can still go downhill and if our novel is a tragedy then they won’t recover, but the Moment of Hope gives the readers a whiff of something better.

Now, before someone decides to put the Moment of Hope in the A plot, let me say why that isn’t a good idea. First, the A plot already has something similar. It is the midpoint with a false victory. The difference is that the tension isn’t as tight at the midpoint and we have to have a defeat after the false victory midpoint. With the Moment of Hope we can have a high point in a subplot and keep it high. Second, we don’t want to give away the end too soon. The Moment of Hope may give the protagonist an advantage as the people from the subplot come to give him a hand, but it doesn’t guarantee victory. Maybe the villain has his own supporters giving him a hand.

The thing that makes the Moment of Hope truly special is that we can use it to make our readers feel very strong emotions. Perhaps they will laugh, or cry or shout for joy. The Moment of Hope is a moment of release. It gives our readers a place to let those feeling loose and that keeps them in the book.