Little Moments

SPOILER ALERT!
Do not read this entry if you have not read A Death of Honor.

Payne caught up as a uniformed man with a megaphone announced that boarding was closing to check for last-minute cancellations. Trinina looked harried. The steward guarding the path looked stern.

He handed her Nathan’s suitcase. “What’s the problem?”

“He won’t take this paper,” Trinina sobbed.

“It’s torn,” the steward said in a thick accent. He studied Payne and cocked his head.

“You see this?” Payne shouted, touching the cloth around his head. “Somebody tried to kill us for these papers. You’re telling me that she can’t get on because somebody made off with the corner?”

“It’s your paper,” Trinina said weakly.

“Those are the rules,” the steward said.

Payne put his hand between Trinina’s shoulders and shoved her up the path. “Go!” he shouted. “Go!”

She looked at him, eyes wide.

“Go!”

“I love you, Payne.”

Go on! Get the hell out of here!

She turned and ran up the path.

Yeah, I have to get used to putting spoiler alerts up now since hopefully lots of new people will be reading Honor in the near future.

My wife and I were proofing this book last week to make sure all the formatting was where it was supposed to be. I was having her read the first and last word of each paragraph to make sure they had all been broken up properly. Nearing this part, she was reading, “Payne, stern. He, problem. He, paper. It’s, head.”

She got to Payne’s line, “Go, here” and I stopped her.

“This is my favorite line in the book,” I said, having recently discovered that during an earlier pass throught the book – when I was scanning it, I think. “‘Go on. Get the hell out of here.‘”

My wife asked, “Why?”

I said, “Because this is the moment when Payne becomes a human being.”

“Sacrifice,” she said.

“Yeah. For the first time in the book, his actions aren’t all about him.”

Which is true. Payne becomes a human being at this moment in the book, which incidentally, was being made up on the spot by yours truly. At this point in the story, the mystery is solved. However, as I was writing I said to myself, “All they need to do now is get on the boat and leave.” Then I stopped typing and said, “Boy, that’s really boring. Let me see what I can do to spice up that ending.”

But the whole point of this exercise is that Payne’s humanity came back to him not in a bang, but in a whimper. In a little moment. There’s no blood rushing to his head, the jetty to the boat is not spinning around him, there’s no white-knuckled grip on Nathan’s suitcase. There’s no interior monologue debating the wisdom of his next action. It happens naturally. And that’s the way I think it should be.

I think there’s a tendency among us to overplay big moments, but I’m starting to realize that they’re best underplayed. For one thing, the reader has to think about it more, and I’m always for that – which is why I tend not to reveal everything about the world, its circumstances, and the people who inhabit it. Readers have thanked me for this.

There are times when it’s appropriate. However, since life itself is made up of little moments, I think revelations like this seem to ring truer when they’re not so broadly played.

My wife and I were watching The Blind Side again the other night, and there’s that moment in the first football game when Michael Oher grabs his coach and pulls him away to keep him from decking an unfair referee. Oher looks at him and says, smiling, “That’s okay, coach. I’ve got your back.” That’s the moment when you know that Oher has come to understand not just the game, but the fact that he can trust his coach and teammates and sees them as family. There’s no clap of thunder, no reverbed words ringing in his ears. It just happens.

Welcome to life. It’s full of stuff like this.

So the next time you want to show that change is in the air, turn off the thunder machine and draw a line through the histrionics. Turn the volume down and let it whisper.

It’ll be loud and clear to the reader.

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