The Art of Storytelling: What is your Dramatic Moment?
William Faulkner wrote The Sound and the Fury because he imagined the following moment: A young girl with dirty underwear climbs a tree. That young girl would evolve into Faulkner's tragic heroine, Caddy. The moment reveals two key elements:
Faulkner has lots of freedom in answering these questions - but not total freedom. First, he has to remain true to the elements of the moment; he can't come up with elements that won't fit. Second, he has to understand that whatever choices he makes regarding this moment will bind him to another choice, and then another, and then another.
A good dramatic moment is the place where idea, action, and character intersect. Consider the dramatic moments that fill the news: a school shooting in Columbine, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Soviet submarine sunk in the North Sea. In these moments we have dramatic action - people die. We also have interesting characters - someone is responsible, someone is heroic, someone is victimized. And finally we have ideas: in the Columbine shooting, we have an example of the terrible consequences of neglect and bullying; in the Oklahoma City bombing we have an example of how beliefs, held too dear, can become terrible; in the case of the Soviet submarine, we have an example of the extreme vulnerability of modern technology. Of course, these moments suggest many other themesjust as they suggest many characters and many actions. But once you've chosen your moment, you've limited your themes. The sinking of the Soviet submarine is unlikely to be a good moment in which to explore the themes of unrequited love, or parent-child tension.
Of course, dramatic moments aren't always about life and death. Our lives pivot on many quieter moments: the moment we meet someone we love; the moment we move away from our childhood home; the moment we understand that our parents are not perfect. But no matter how big or small the moment is, the writer's task remains the same: