There are two kinds of Aha! moments that fill me up with happiness. As a writer, I am over the moon when I suddenly break through the barrier that’s been holding me back and can see clear through a sticky part of my project. As a reader (or movie viewer) I get the same intense satisfaction when a particularly devious plot point suddenly becomes clear and I get it!
The Process Moment
Last year, a writer I know (Jeannie Mobley-Tanaka) posted on Facebook that she’d been facing a stumbling block in her work-in-progress. “And suddenly, there it is, shining like the Holy Grail itself–the key issue for the MC that is going to tie every subplot and theme together with perfect clarity. Yes, Yes, Yes YESSSS!!!!!!” An unpublished follower begged, “PLEASE tell us how you came to it… and don’t say it just happened!” Jeannie obliged, but it probably didn’t help that other writer. Her breakthrough was something tiny – a character’s reaction of embarrassment that Jeannie realized made sense somewhere else, too, and then got to thinking of the implications of that reaction. It was Jeannie’s breakthrough.
You can’t teach the path to a moment like that. Someone else couldn’t even recognize it. It’s completely personal. And rare enough that it calls for celebration.
The Payoff Moment
Recently, I experienced the other kind of Aha! moment in a movie theater. I’d been paying attention as I watched, noting all the little details the writer inserted and how they worked within the story. It’s a shame, I know, to dissect a movie while you’re watching it. But almost every writer I know does it to some extant; we really can’t help it.
Anyway, the climax scene played out to its logical conclusion – a tragedy of superhuman courage. And then we had a quick cut to a scene that seemed to make a paradox of that conclusion. Except.
Except the writer had given us a tiny throwaway line early in the movie that explained the deus ex machina trick. And… Aha! I was so happy I’d figured it out, I left with a great big grin.
The point of an Aha! moment, from a reader/viewer’s perspective is that we solved the crime, discovered the secret, revealed the villain – on our own. Oh, sure, there were characters in the story who did a lot of the legwork. And maybe we worked it all out no quicker than the brilliant detective. But when we look back at all the layers and details of plot, at the tiny things woven in for a purpose, we see how everything led up to this incredibly inevitable moment.
And then we give that incredible book/movie a great review. We tell everyone we know about it. But we hold one thing back. We never mention that tiny throwaway line that helps the ending make sense. Because, just like the Aha! moment of a writer, this one is personal, too. A victory, of sorts, that also calls for celebration.
And yes, I have recently seen The Dark Knight Rises.