It's the moment in a thriller-type book where I as a reader think, "They're never going to get out of this!" One panelist I heard recently called it the "Oh, s*&t! moment."

Sometimes the author can't deliver, and things get solved in an unrealistic way, but when it's well done, it's very pleasing. Maybe the key is something you learned early in the story but didn't pay much attention to. Maybe the characters seize on an opportunity or make one from sheer determination. But the enjoyment of the second half of a book is created by building, in the first half, the idea that something bad is going to happen and there's nothing to stop it. The reader has to come to a point where evil feels unbeatable, and then we--the reader and the author and the characters together--beat it, and the world is once again (temporarily) safe for democracy or whatever governmental form you prefer.

That's the point where it's hard to put the book down and write your blog. Hint, hint.

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Comment by Peg Herring on June 10, 2009 at 9:25am
I heard a story, possibly an urban myth, that Ford was sick the day they shot that scene. He was supposed to fight the guy, but he couldn't get excited about it, so he shot him. At least our characters don't have actors with the flu to influence them!
Comment by Jack Getze on June 10, 2009 at 1:23am
Last week I heard a New York agent describe "water cooler moments," where in addition to the turning point and the oh crap moment, he said authors should have scenes (like movies) that inspire reader (viewer) conversation. As an example, he used that Indiana Jones scene where, faced with a bad guy swinging viscious swords, Jones shoots him with a gun.

I thought the comparison to movies a little weird, but maybe not. Stories are stories, I suppose, and satisfaction is satisfaction. I agree with IJ, however, that these scenes and twist at the end should come from character. Certainly more satisfying to me.
Comment by Dana King on June 10, 2009 at 1:21am
These are the big payoffs in such books, and the greatest danger. A writer who writes his characters into a spot he can't plausibly get them out of--but does anyway--may well ruin the rest of the book.
Comment by I. J. Parker on June 10, 2009 at 1:06am
A matter of ratcheting up the suspense, and usually action-related. Yes, very useful. Protagonists in a series don't die, so that takes away a lot of suspense, but for me the trick to getting him out is always tied to his character.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on June 10, 2009 at 12:36am
I'm with you on this one, Peg. Great satisfaction to see the bad guys get the stuffings beat out of them. The same holds true for a great 'whodunit' when someone either shows or explains how the mystifying crime was committed--and who who did it. I like whodunits that are puzzlers. Like the early Ellery Queen novels.

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