Critical Moments Guide
These are based on what James Scott Bell calls “signposts.” I’ve changed the names on some to protect the innocent. 😉 Although his terms are in parentheses. According to Bell, these 14 moments need to happen in every story or the reader comes away feeling like something was missing. They can’t necessarily pinpoint what’s missing, but these signposts are usually it.
UH-OH! (The Disturbance)
This is an opening disturbance. You want your story to start out with conflict, otherwise you’re going to bore (and lose) the reader. It can be something as minor as a bad day trying to get to work. Maybe the female lead loses the heel of her shoe, or it could start in the middle of the action with something major. Whatever it is, it’s the first thing that hooks the reader in.
You also want to get the reader interested in your character by this point, so they will want to find out what happens.
In a mystery, this could be finding the body or learning of a crime.
In a romance, this could be the first meeting of the hero and heroine, the part where they usually cross paths and dislike each other.
BE A FRIEND (The Care Package)
In this scene or event, you want to show the reader that the character really is a nice person, even if they’re acting like a jerk. Have them stop long enough to help a friend out. It can be something simple like giving advice. Just make sure it happens with someone the lead cares about.
NOT GONNA DO IT (The Argument Against Transformation)
James Scott Bell calls this the ‘argument against transformation.’ This is a moment where the lead has a belief and doesn’t think he/she will ever change his mind, but in the end he or she is changed.
HERE COMES TROUBLE (Trouble is Brewing)
This is a moment when the reader knows trouble is brewing, things are about to escalate.
NO TURNING BACK #1 (Doorway of No Return #1)
This should propel the lead into Act 2. It comes around the 25% mark of the story. Whatever happens here spells trouble, but after this point the character can no longer go back to way things were. More confrontations are coming for the lead. This point in the story is a milestone for what’s ahead.
KICK IN THE SHINS (Kick in the Shins)
This is what JSB calls it. I couldn’t think of a better title. It’s a moment of setback. The lead has been confronted with a problem and he or she is trying to fix it, but then something happens that is like being kicked in the shin during a fight.
SELF REFLECTION (The Mirror Moment)
This is a moment when the character figuratively looks at himself in the mirror and makes a decision. He asks himself who he is, who he’s becoming and if he intends to move forward and keep fighting the good fight. This is also called the Midpoint Shift. After this moment things will escalate more than they have been.
SHOW KINDNESS (Pet the Dog)
JSB refers to this event as Pet the Dog. This is where the lead stops everything he’s doing to help someone or something in need even though he doesn’t have time, it could lead to more danger or expose him. It’s like running from a bad guy and stopping to help a kitten out of a tree.
NO TURNING BACK #2 (Doorway of No Return #2)
This propels the lead into Act 3. Leading up to the final battle. It comes around the 75% mark of the story. This point in the story is a milestone for what’s ahead. Things start getting much worse for the lead.
MORE TROUBLE (Mounting Forces)
Just when you think the lead can’t take any more, something else happens to cause a setback.
IN THE DARK – ALL HOPE LOST (Lights Out)
This is the moment in the story that the reader wonders if the lead will ever get out of the mess he’s in. This is the lead’s darkest moment, a moment of despair when he feels like he can’t go on. How can he ever overcome the obstacles and win in the end?
Q FACTOR (The Q Factor)
I left this one named Q Factor. It’s a moment when the lead remembers something from early in the story, something a friend said perhaps, that helps the lead keep pushing on. It’s an emotional push. Maybe the lead remembers what’s at stake, has to save the love of his life or a child—something emotionally jarring that propels him to give it all he’s got.
FINAL BATTLE (Final Battle)
This is the grand finale. The hero or lead will win, but it needs to be emotional for the reader, full of conflict.
This is the resolution of the story—the hero has won and is changed because of it. If he was a jerk, he’s found a reason to be nicer.