Today, I want to talk about what I will call “bendy” moments. They are big moments in life that we all experience. As authors, if our stories are true to life and we are writing believable characters, they will also experience “bendy” moments.
A “bendy” moment can be caused by lots of different situations. Those situations may even be of different magnitude, based on the person experiencing it. What might be a “bendy” moment for me might not be one for you.
Think of a bendy moment as a moment that makes the very fabric of our lives bend. Something happens that is unexpected and also profound enough to alter the future prospect of our lives. As a result we almost feel, for a period of time, that we are not really present in the moment because we are lost in the experience of that event and that change, whether good, bad, or bittersweet.
In literature, some of my favorite “bendy” moments are:
-Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” after the bishop pardons him and he has to decide whether to accept Christ in his life and soften his heart.
-Don Quijote, after he is knighted by the innkeeper, attacks a bunch of people after they refuse to admit the beauty of Dulcinea del Toboso, and gets his butt kicked.
-Scarlett O’Hara, post return to Tara, swearing that she will never go hungry again.
Bendy moments are important because, as I mentioned above, they are profound moments. Unless you are writing about ennui or tedium or frustration, that side of the human experience, you really should have a bendy moment for your characters within the context of your story. And probably, you should place it toward the start.
Don Quijote and Valjean’s bendy moments, in fact, come almost at the VERY start of their respective novels. This is because these moments initiate their change, their character development, and a purpose for their lives that will later unfold.
Bendy moments are great action starters. They are not only psychologically intriguing, but from a story structure standpoint, they are a catalyst to kick the plot into action in an interesting way.
A SECONDARY CHARACTER’S BENDY MOMENT
One thing to consider, based on the examples I gave above, is that protagonists are often those who experience bendy moments, but they don’t have to be.
A secondary character can also experience a bendy moment. It doesn’t have to be dealt with as in depth as one a protagonist faces, but even given less attention, such a circumstance gives fodder to make the secondary players full and real, make your world seem like it is actually inhabited by people, and add new dimensions to your plot.
One of my favorite bendy moments a secondary character experiences is Molly Weasley in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” facing a bogart. I won’t say too much, but her experience drives home, I think, a lot of things for her: the danger of war and the current circumstances, her powerlessness in the face of it to protect her loved ones, a sense of fear and hardened resolve.
There is a change in Mrs. Weasley at that moment. She goes from mother mode–the last time we really saw her before this “bendy” moment was in the previous book, where it’s mentioned she holds Harry as he cries exactly as a mother would–to warrior mode.
It’s a subtle transition, and not much dwelt upon. But it’s real, and deep, and it’s that kind of thing that makes J.K. Rowling’s writing so rich.
Don’t underestimate the power of a bendy moment. And if you have one, make sure you don’t cheapen it by the way you treat it. Readers don’t like that.