The “A-ha!” Moment in Writing


You see this?


If for some reason you don’t, this is a brick wall. I sometimes come across them when I’m writing. Nothing—and I mean, nothing—is more frustrating than knowing the direction you want a story to go, but you are staring at this instead:


This sucks.

I felt like I’d been staring at one of these with The Ghost Rebellion. Don’t get me wrong. I have an idea of where Pip and I want to head with this next Ministry adventure, but I found myself staring at that wall, thinking “All right, I know where I am at presently. I know the next point I need to reach. How do I get there?” I am working the grey cells, running bullet points from notes, setting up scenes, asking questions I’ve written on the white board again and again…


…and then it happens. No warning. Just WHAM! There it is. Right in front of me. The answer.

It’s like that single piece of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, set off to one side. You know the one. That piece right in front of you. You think “That can’t be the right piece…” but you keep looking at it as if your brain is subliminally screaming “No, dumbass, that IS the piece you need, just pick it up and try it out!” Then on the tenth time you look at that piece, you pick it up and it just looks like the right fit. You try it out, and your top quarter section is finally completed.

I hate jigsaw puzzles, by the way.

When it comes to writing though, I love this moment. It’s the breakthrough that drives your characters forward and also ties in previous (or future) books together, building on the universe in ways that catch you by surprise. I call this an “A-ha” moment for a writer.

Not to be confused with the above A-ha moment. That A-ha moment is entirely non-writing related, but still a banging music video. (Work that snare drum, white boy.)

Sorry, where was I?

Oh, right, the A-ha moment for a writer.

It could have been a line you might have dropped into a conversation in order to avoid a possible plot corner. It could have been a device you never fully explored in your worldbuilding notes. Whatever it is, the A-ha moment sets off a chain reaction and connecting of the dots, driving your story forward in a logical direction. If any of your readers question it (and rest assured, they will) you can come back with facts from the A-ha moment that only reinforces the decisions and directions you’ve taken. This kind of literary badassery backed up by citations wraps your story in a suit of titanium, turning your collection of words into an unstoppable tank of awesome, all because you asked yourself those questions, made notes on the answers you discovered, and have your characters, events, and actions click and clack together.

TGTR-Connery-SutherlandThis is part of the magic writers conjure—making what appears to be a sense of random happenings all fit together, and taking the audience for a mental ride. Maybe that love of the A-ha moment comes from great heist movies like The Sting and The Great Train Robbery, or enjoying David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. You search for the tell or the clue to solve the mystery when, in fact, it was right in front of you the entire time.

It’s a beautiful thing, that moment of discovery when you’re writing. If it works like that for you when you writing it, then it should go like that for your readers. It’s more than okay to have fun when you’re writing. After all, if you’re not enjoying the story, how can you expect your readers to as well? You should also be hanging on for the roller coaster ride, too. This is an adventure for all of us. Writers included.

1 Comment

  1. Ah, the brick wall. One would think that as writers we wouldn’t see it very often, but we see it a lot. A whole lot. A good portion of that is because sometimes in a story you need to bring your characters where everything seems hopeless. A point where everything just stops because you can either go in any direction, or in no direction at all. And there is the wall.

    In my experience, the question one must ask to get past the wall is not “How do I get there?”. It is usually “What is the worst way to get there?” or “What would be the stupidest thing for my characters to do now?” These are much easier questions to answer, and if they don’t provide answers to the first question, they spark ideas that do lead you past the wall. And gives you some interesting plot twists.


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