The ‘Oh crap’ moment

. My favourite part, both when I’m writing and reading, is what I call the ‘Oh Crap!’ moment. The perfect example, as in so many cases, is Shakespeare. Specifically, Macbeth. Macbeth and Macduff are fighting. Macduff is struggling, and Macbeth is confident, gloating, arrogant. There is the following dialogue.

Thou losest labour:
As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed:
Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
To one of woman born.
Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Untimely ripp’d

You can practically hear Macbeth, in modern parlance, thinking ‘Oh crap. I’m dead’. From that moment on, he loses heart and faith. Macduff becomes the stronger, and Macbeth is no longer the powerful chosen one.

And that’s the Oh Crap moment. The moment when suddenly everything changes, and everything gets a bit darker. It’s no longer. The hero is no longer immortal. Things are not what they seem.

Another brilliant example is in Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire. It’s the moment when Cedric and Harry grab the Portkey and end up in the graveyard. Voldemort rises from the dead, and says ‘Kill the spare’ – and Cedric is killed. And suddenly, everything changes. Harry and his friends are no longer a bunch of plucky, sparky kids, outwitting a shadowy bad guy. The bad guy is back from the dead, they’re going to lose this time, and from now on, good people are going to start dying. Everything has changed, everything as become very dark, nothing is certain any more.

It’s not always easy to write – both because it’s difficult to force, and because sometimes its easy to let the story go on in it’s old, familiar, predictable way. It’s not always easy to spot. Sometimes you don’t realise everything has changed until long after it’s changed. But it’s always the part of the story that gives me a little shiver down my back, makes me grip the book tighter (or lean further into the screen) and breath a little faster.


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