Greetings, Readers and Raptors!
At last we have reached the end of our series on the ever-important WHAM MOMENT! (Click here if you missed Part I or Part II.) And we’re wrapping things up with what may be the trickiest kind of WM to pull off: the Savvy Wham Moment.
Now before we get started, I just want to clear something up. You may be thinking, “What’s the point of a WM if it isn’t a surprise? Isn’t the idea supposed to be that the moment sideswipes us because we aren’t expecting it?”
You’re right: the surprise is part of what we value in Naïve WMs. But that’s not to say that Savvy WMs are somehow lacking in storytelling oomph. They can pack a powerful punch if done correctly, because they get their energy from the audience’s hopes or expectations surrounding an anticipated moment.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here—let’s start with the basic ingredients:
1. A Reveal
Naïve WMs, as we know, require a secret—something the writer is deliberately hiding from characters and readers so that when the secret is finally divulged (after the proper sprinkling of clues and red herrings, of course), the reader and POV character both fall down on their butts in shock.
Savvy WMs, on the other hand, take a different tack. In this circumstance, the content of the secret is still astonishing to the characters in question. However, we readers get special readerly-privileges. Whether it’s through omniscient narration or POV-hopping or even the careful way that the author directs our attention to certain points, we are expected to know the secret in question before it is ever revealed. Which means that (in contrast to a Naïve WM) in a Savvy WM, the power lies not in the secret, but in the moment of truth itself…
…which leads us to our next point:
2. The Tease (optional)
Yes, the audience may know the secret in question, but it’s up to you to make the most of that knowledge, and while it may not be appropriate in every circumstance, you can often milk these moments for all they’re worth. Whether it’s misleading us with some overly-vague language, a blatant Ship Tease (e.g. a Moment Killer), or just generally toying with the audience’s expectations, you can have a bit of fun tricking your readers into thinking the reveal is about to happen before pulling the rug out from under them.
Also, be aware that you can indeed “tease” your readers by making it seem as though things are going to go in a very different direction from what they expect. That said, such red-herring teases do tend to have the effect of confusing/deflating audience expectations, which could negatively impact reader response when the actual WM happens. Such an example (in my opinion) from the Harry Potter universe is Harry’s relationship with Ginny—while Ginny has a huge crush on Harry at a young age, she eventually gets over him and starts dating other people. Thus, indicating that Ginny and Harry would probably not be an item = red-herring tease. It isn’t until a couple of years later that Harry begins to find Ginny attractive. While this might be a realistic depiction of how such things happen in real life, I found it emotionally unsatisfying and felt that it made their relationship harder to believe, simply because Ginny wasn’t really in the picture all that much during those intervening years (in contrast to, say, someone like Hermione or Luna). If Ginny had had more of a presence in the story and had seemed more like a legitimate romantic option, and if the teases over the years had pointed more towards her than away, then the pairing would have felt less forced to me. (And no, I don’t think Harry should have ended up with Hermione or Luna—just that it would have been more understandable if he had.)
Oh, and of course, rhythm is also important in making a tease seem credible (i.e. as though it could actually be the real McCoy)—see Rhythm section below.
(Note: these example tropes I’ve just pointed out do tend to be slightly comic and related to romantic relationships, but a tease doesn’t have to be funny or romantic in nature. That said, Love Confessions or the Big Damn Kiss tend to fall into the Savvy WM category because it’s often fairly obvious to the audience if characters have feelings for one another. Thus, the resulting teases for those kinds of WMs will probably be of a romantic nature. *coughRonandHermionecough* Hence why I am yet again using Harry Potter examples in order to avoid spoilers.)
3. Rhythm (semi-optional)
So you’ve got your reveal all picked out and have (possibly) psyched your readers out at some point thinking it was going to happen. Now, as you’re going in for the kill, rhythm comes into play. As you may recall, rhythm is also one of the key components of a Naïve WM; however, there is (in my opinion) a noteworthy difference in the rhythmic patterns of these two types of WMs:
- Naïve WMs tend to occur either in fast-moving, exciting moments or in calm, peaceful moments in order to create a maximum shift in the rhythm of the scene.
- In Savvy WMs, on the other hand, you need to build up to the moment that the audience has been waiting for (or dreading, as the case may be). Which often means slowing down your pace. Slowing waaaay down. Time goes to a crawl, and the POV character is acutely aware of little details that s/he might not pick up on otherwise. And then…BAM. WM hits!
Again, as with the tease, this is not a strictly necessary part of a Savvy WM, but it will probably make the moment much more satisfying for the audience…
…which leads us to our final point:
4. Sticking It
You’ve made it to the reveal. Your character has just said or done something that has irrevocably altered his/her relationship with the other character(s). Now you have to follow through and strive for what Olympic gymnasts aim for: sticking your landing. If you rush through the WM without giving your characters and readers a moment to fully experience and process what just happened (for better or for worse), you’ll risk losing the emotional impact of the moment. This advice is useful in the case of Naïve WMs as well, but not as crucial because the reader’s surprise does some of the work for you. In a Savvy WM, on the other hand, you’ve got readerly expectations to meet. After all, if you’ve done your job properly, your audience has spent a bit of time pondering how/when this moment was going to occur, and no matter how you make it happen, you’ve got a bit of an obligation to your readers. So don’t drag through it, but don’t rush past it either. Just land—boom—and let the moment sink in, however briefly. For added weight, put the WM at the end of a paragraph, or better yet, make it its own paragraph. Simple, straightforward sentences are good tools as well.
Then move on and let the story roll forwards.
And there you have it: the Anatomy of a Wham Moment! I hope you learned something, or at least that you found it interesting to take a few minutes out of your day to think about the mechanics of storytelling. It’s something I enjoy pondering, if you haven’t noticed. And a few questions for you, as always:
1) Once again, do you agree with my overall WM sketch? Disagree? Think I left out something crucial?
2) Is there some other aspect of storytelling you’d like me to examine? Leave a comment and let me know!