Story Tricks No. 2: The Still Moment

Bryant and May, Reading & Writing

I learned this one a few years back, when I was writing a book called ‘Spanky’, which sold very well for me, partly because the first edition had a saucy cover that caused a kerfuffle in the press yes, they really are that simple).

The novel was a modern take on Faust, and I had reached the point in the narrative where I had to flip events around for the hero, so that having lost everything he could fight back. I was writing plot, plot, plot, and got stuck. I couldn’t just have the hero rush ahead, so I had him freeze and take stock of his life, and consider everything that had led him to this point, so that he could plan his actions.

It gave the reader a breather and it felt like the eye of the storm, a genuine moment of reflection. I call it the ‘still moment, screenwriters sometimes call it ‘the night of the soul’, but it really helps to have a little calm before the final climax.

I still use it all the time. In the latest Bryant & May, it’s no surprise that Bryant solves the crime but before he makes an arrest he stops and starts talking about something completely different, and this is his still moment. Putting breath-space into a novel is important, especially in heavily plotted stories, and makes everything feel more real.

You find this a lot in films, when you get a scene where the main character looks out over the city, or calls a family member, or is merely scene alone. One of the most famous in British films is in ‘The Long Good Friday’, when Harold Shand takes a shower and stops to think about what is happening to him – and you feel for him.

4 comments on “Story Tricks No. 2: The Still Moment”

  1. This works very well in songwriting too!

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    It’s a good technigue.
    The pause that refreshes the lead character, the reader, and the writer. The calm center of the narrative storm, where the sun momentarily shines, while everyone knows all around the dark clouds are churning and moving closer.
    In pop music isn’t it the B in the AABA structure? Also, perhaps – not sure – the release? An adagio in classical music?

  3. annie morgan says:

    I find many still moments in the Bryant and May books, and am now on the last one. They have given me enormous pleasure along a number of lines, and as I am now 81 years old, I’d very much appreciate it if you would get the next one published as soon as possible so I can read it before I kick the bucket. I love Bryant, he and I have similar tendencies, I just wish I had his capacity for remembering stuff. Thanks for a super great series.

  4. snowy says:

    Annie is back!
    Nice to see [read] you again.

    I did leave a serious answer to your question regarding a place to discuss the books without worrying about spoilers, in the thread our host dedicated to your request. You should find it in the archive for July I think, yes 28th of July.

    TTFN

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