Sunday, September 12, 2010

‘Yes’ Moments.

As a writer, I’m always looking to create that ‘Yes!’ moment in a story. I don’t mean a catchy opening to hook the reader, or even great characters and compelling plot (though I want those too). I’m talking about the point in a story which literally pushes the reader’s ‘Yes!’ button. It creates a perception change which turns whatever they’re reading from being just another book or story to something they can’t put down. It makes them want to share that experience with others.

Ever laughed out loud, burst into tears or just sat back and said ‘Wow! This is great!’ while reading a novel? Those are the ‘Yes!’ moments. They’re the ones we remember for a long time, and (for me at least) those books and stories are the ones we talk up the most.

I believe it’s that ‘Yes!’ moment connection which makes the difference between people forgetting all about the novel they just read, and recommending it to (perhaps even buying it for) someone else. It’s what makes them remember a writer’s name as well as the book’s title. It’s what makes them seek out more of that author’s work.

So how do we go about creating a ‘Yes!’ moment?
I wish I knew. I thought I’d got the crying part nailed – people often burst into tears when I suggest they read my work – but apparently that’s not quite enough.

I do think it requires a strong emotional connection with at least one character in the story, but there’s more to it than just empathy.

Although I’m calling them ‘Yes!’ moments, I think the particular scene or line of dialogue which triggers them is the tipping point rather than the stand-alone cause. The connection with the reader started on page one and (hopefully) built up from there.

What does a ‘Yes!’ moment look like?
For me, they usually come as a surprise. Most of the time it’s a laugh out loud piece of dialogue or a minor story twist, immediately followed by a shocking/sad moment in the story (or vice versa). It could be a piece of raw honesty from a character I related to, or the death/break up/departure I knew was coming but hoped wouldn’t. Sometimes it’s the happy ending, or the poetic justice of the villain’s demise.

My guess is that different readers experience different moments. What connects with some people leaves others cold, so we should aim to have more than a few. If we write them well and work them smoothly into the rest of our story, I’m sure our readers will notice…at least, I hope they will.

How about you?

What ‘Yes!’ moments have you had while reading?


Born in England, Jon Gibbs, now lives in New Jersey, where he’s a member of several writers' groups, including SCBWI and The Garden State Horror Writers. He is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and

Jon's debut novel,
Fur-Face (a Middle Grade fantasy about unusual friendships, unlikely alliances, and wanting to fit in), was published in eBook form by Echelon Press in 2010 (click here to see the trailer).

His presentation/workshop, The Fine Art of Self Promotion is based on entries from his popular online journal, An Englishman in New Jersey.

Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.


  1. I can't remember specifics, but there are books that have stuck with me. Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series is one of them. LKH's Anita Blake series up to and including Obsidian Butterfly (the other half has stuck with me too but not for good reasons), Kelley Armstrong's books in general, Lili St. Crow's Strange Angel's series, The Big Red, Outlaw Red, etc series I read as a child about an Irish Setter, The Black Stallion Series. These books are all firmly imprinted on my mind. I might even thing they've influenced my life... no I don't think that, I know it.

    Yes moments are super important. So the next question is... how do you learn to write them? Another blog post perhaps?

  2. Lol, it's one thing to know we need them, it's quite another to know how to write them :)

  3. "Yes" moments are so hard to pull off... but they're similar to Crowning Moments of Awesome (for me) -- when a character does something awesome, grows up, takes charge, whatever. They DO something, it has lasting impact and forever changes their lives and story and affects the people and things around them.

    (I will be evil and link to TVtropes for examples. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED. ;))

  4. I can usually tell when it's a "yes" moment, as well. If I can reduce a reader to tears, that's a "yes" moment. If I can do it with only a few words, that's a "major yes" moment. :) And if I am reading along and I feel butterflies in my gut, that's a "yes" moment. And I'm not sure you can actually plan those. I think they happen when the characters are as real to the author as they are to the reader.

  5. Hi Merc, I think TV examples work just fine. Let's face it, most of us spend more time watching the telly than reading, after all :)

  6. I agree, Jenna, we can't plan them (more's the pity), but if they aren't there by the final draft, we've got a problem :(

  7. To me, a "Yes" moment is when a character makes the discovery that changes or at least makes a difference in her life. In Mockingjay that I just read, there is that moment that I said "Yes" when Katniss did something I wasn't expecting but was glad she did. I won't say what in case some of you are planning to read it.

    I laughed about your "crying" part. Sorry about that. Great post.

  8. I hadn't thought about specific "yes" moments, as key, but, I agree, those moments do make a book memorable; maybe it's when they really hit our emotional core. I remember when reading Adrienne Jones's The Hoax, there was a small, intimate scene of two main characters sitting at a kitchen table, talking around what needed to be said. There was a moment of connection, of love, that hit me deeply, and I think that would be one of your "yes" moments. I was moved because of everything that led up to that moment, of course, but when something so simple could stir me so much, I realize that I am living these characters, and that I care.

    "I thought I’d got the crying part nailed – people often burst into tears when I suggest they read my work..." Hahaha, always love your humor. Thanks :)

  9. I think those moments are the core of a good novel, and have to come out of the work as a whole. I certainly hope I've achieved at least one of them, at least for some of my readers! If we don't manage that, then we need to revise to bring them out, I think. But it is tricky to know when we've done it. Much easier to say when a novel we're reading works for us.

    It's also altogether too easy to spot the "no" moments, when we're jerked out of whatever novel we're reading. But, to get to "yes", it's not enough to avoid "no". Still waiting to hear from my readers whether I've managed both of those things. (Is nervous.)

  10. I never really thought it out before, Jon, but you're right--Those books I love the most have at least one YES! moment. And some of the best books have lots of yes moments (sans caps and exclamation point) that the reader might not quite notice out loud. Those are the hardest to write, but the kind that have to come to us just as subtly--shall I use my bete noire word?--organically.

  11. Hi Pat,

    I find it hard to plan those moments, but they really leap out at you when they're done right (at least, that's what I think).

    Thanks for commenting :)

  12. Hi Mary,

    Funny you should mention 'No' moments, that's the subject of my next post here.

    Best of luck with those reader responses your waiting for :)

  13. Hi Terri,

    I don't know about you, but I've always suspected all that subtle 'organic' stuff is the result of a lot of planning and hard work on the part of the writer ;)

    Thanks for commenting:)