The Aha! Moment
The “aha” moment is often about plot. A writer struggles to create a plot each chapter of which meshes with the others to make a complete, organic whole—and sometime in the course of doing that you realize something isn’t quite right. Usually somewhere between the beginning and the middle you bog down. You’ve almost got the concept down, you’ve done some outlining, but it hasn’t quite come together. And then the “aha” moment strikes and the book begins to gel.
But the struggle for the “aha” moment doesn’t always happen at the beginning. My fourth Samuel Craddock novel, which I just turned in to my editor, went along fine until the end. When I sent it off, I told both my agent and my editor that I was not happy with the end. I hadn’t been happy with it since I first wrote it, but no matter how I tinkered with it, it lay there like a dead cockroach. Like my writers’ group, my agent said that the book ended too abruptly. Yeah, yeah, I knew that. But what did it need? My wonderfully indulgent editor told me to read his edits and see if that helped. Nope.
By now, I had pretty much decided that I was going to have to bear the ire of readers who would say, “It ends too abruptly. It isn’t complete.” I didn’t like that solution, so I read it again. And again.
I will digress here to talk about when I book goes bad. Like a teenager who takes up with the wrong crowd, a book can become a rogue. I think of it with a leather jacket on, smoking a cigarette, gunning a motorcycle and oozing bad attitude. I’ve had plenty of instances in which I had to back up and wonder where my teenaged book became a rebel without a cause. Whenever this happened, inevitably, I’d read back over previous pages and quickly realize where the bad-boy book had taken a wrong turn and ended up at the edge of a cliff. At that point, it usually meant tossing many pages of writing before I got back to the right road.
Back to my recent struggles with the ending: I had never had the experience of having a book take a wrong turn right at the end. But finally, I realized I had to back up and find out where I had gone wrong. Suddenly I looked at one sentence and said, “AHA!” That’s the bad boy. The sentence was a general sentence rather than a specific one. Basically, it said, “And after that one, two and three happened and that was the end.” What I needed was “The next step was x. And here’s what x was about.”
As soon as I identified and got rid of that lazy little sentence, the end opened up not just to a prolonged ending but to several new scenes that brought a real sense of closure to the book. So now I’ve learned my lesson—that the Aha! Moment came come anywhere. Look for it!