I love the anvil moment because it makes writing so much easier.  It takes care of all those inconvenient and messy problems that character arcs create.

What’s the anvil moment?  And what does it have to do with character arcs?  I’m glad you asked.  But first, do you know what a character arc is?  Just in case you don’t, I’ll explain, and it’s really quite simple.  And, at the same time, complicated.  Because the character arc is the change that takes place in your main character (and sometimes other characters) during the course of your story.  Without that change, few readers will think any story was worth reading.  But how do you show the change happening?

For some writers, it’s easy.  I’m not that kind of writer.  I hate character arcs.

I used to try to ease my characters towards what they would be at the end of the story. Problem was it didn’t work.  They got confused… and I got confused… until disaster befell us all and I threw the whole thing in the trash can and started over from the beginning because it was beyond hope.

Then I learned about the anvil moment.  The  moment when… like an anvil hitting someone over the head so hard that it couldn’t be ignored no matter how much that person wished to ignore it… the change happened and it  happened fast.  In one scene.  Usually in one moment in that scene.  Perhaps in just a few sentences, with no fuss and no mess but enough fanfare that even readers who weren’t paying attention got the message that the character had changed and would follow a different path from that moment forward.

You’ve seen movies and read books that have anvil moments.  In Shindler’s List, it’s when Shindler sees the body of the little girl in the red coat and, afterwards, makes it his mission to save as many Jews as possible. To make sure the audience couldn’t possibly miss the moment, everything in the movie was in black and white except the red coat.   It was a real anvil moment.   Or any romance in which the heroine doesn’t realize she’s in love with the hero until he heads out to save the day, or the country, or the world, or the universe, and she realizes she can’t stand the thought of his not returning.  It’s immediate, major, and changes the direction of the story.

One hint.  Choose your anvil moment well.  Make it when events have been building so the change makes sense and then fit it into the context of the scene.  Spend time on that scene because it’ll be pivotal.  Then relax and stop worrying about character arcs because you can do them with the best writers in the field if you make use of the anvil moment.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. indytony
    Dec 29, 2012 @ 22:11:46

    Excellent post. I will think of this as I write and read.

    Another good example of an “anvil moment” is when Ivan Ilych (in Tolstoy’s short story) is just at the point of death and he notices his son’s lips kissing his hand. He recognizes what a selfish lout he has been and (perhaps) is redeemed.

    Thanks for the post. I’ll be back.


    • florencewitkop
      Dec 30, 2012 @ 09:35:49

      That’s a good example. I tried to think of examples when I wrote the post, but only came up with what I posted. Your example is perfect. I don’t read Tolstoy often, his writing requires more time input than I normally have. But when I do read his works, I’m always impressed… and awed.


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