Monday, March 14, 2011

Mentor Monday - The Big Reveal

Revelation is that moment in the story when the light bulb goes on in your MC’s head and she goes, ‘Aha!’ and suddenly, she knows what to do, the world makes sense, and she can finally fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Her life changes.

It’s also the moment in the story when your MC is hit with horrible news and he goes, ‘Oh, no!’ and suddenly, everything has gone awry, his world is crumbling around him, and he can’t make sense of any of it. His life changes.

All novels, whether for teens, middle-graders, or adults, have at least one revelation, and many have more than one. The biggest revelations usually come at the climax of the story.

The first moment of revelation in Harry Potter is when he’s huddled in the dark in that broken down shack on a lone island far out at sea, and Hagrid bursts in, hands Harry his letter, and says “You’re a wizard, Harry.” This is an “Aha!’ moment. Suddenly, the light comes on for Harry. Now he understands why all those strange things happen to him. They make sense now. And his life changes. He goes off to Hogwarts and learns how to be a wizard. It’s the first in a long list of revelations.

In Bridge to Terabithia, a much quieter book, there are few revelations, but the big one comes at the climax. This one is an “Oh, no!’ moment. Jess is told that his best friend Leslie has died while he was away on a day trip with his art teacher. Leslie was the person who had shown him there was more to the world than his little town, that he could make his dream of being an artist come true, that things didn’t have to be what they were and that life could change. He’s devastated by the news, and it changes him.

What makes these moments of revelation work is the build-up and the reaction. In Harry Potter, Rowling doesn’t allow Harry to simply get his letter and learn the news. It still would have been a revelation if she had, but it would have been a small moment. She made it a big moment by slowly building up to the reveal. She prevented Harry from getting his letter. She allowed Hogwarts to send him hundreds and hundreds of letters, and she let Mr. Dursley keep each and every one of them from Harry, for pages and pages. By the time we find him stuck out on that island, he, and the reader, are dying to know what is in that letter.

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those novels where the reveal is the climax, and the entire novel is the build-up. Everything that happens in this story is happening to make Leslie’s death the ultimate moment. It’s the turning point for Jess, and even his family who barely knew Leslie. As of this moment, their lives will never be the same again. Paterson could have shown us a nice friendship between two kids, but if that’s all it was, Leslie’s death would have been just another death, a sad moment, but not as powerful as it was. Paterson made it big by giving their friendship depth. She built it up over the course of the story, showing us their innermost secrets, and why and how they connected and grew closer. We knew them as well as we know our family members, and that’s what losing Leslie felt like.

Reaction also plays a part in how big a reveal will be. If Harry had replied, “Gee, that’s nice.” and had sat down to eat his birthday cake or had gone back to sleep, the moment would have crumbled and meant nothing. But Harry was amazed and astonished, and because he was, the reader is, too.

The same is true in Terabithia. Jess could have cried and been sad at Leslie’s death, and Paterson could have moved on to the next scene. It would have been a sad moment, but that’s all it would have been - a sad moment - because the reader would have moved on, too. What Paterson did was to let the moment linger. She gave Jess two whole chapters to react to Leslie’s death, and another one to accept it. And because he felt it so long and so deeply, the reader feels it that way, too. It affects us as much as it affects Jess.

So, what are the secrets your MC has to learn? What revelations lie hidden away in your WIP, just waiting to unfold? And how will your characters react to them? Only you can decide that. But whatever you decide, make your revelations as big as they need to be. Create that OMG! moment.


Mur said...

Great post, Barb. I know that for me, what to do about the Great Reveal can be the most challenging part of my story.

I'm Jet . . . said...


Andy said...

Fabulous, as usual.

Thanks, Barb.