The Tipping Point: Three Moments in Great Works that Change Everything
by Colin Griffith
It’s the quiet moments that do it best. The touch of a hand, a word, a pause in the action.
Or maybe it’s the breaking point, the second where chaos erupts and everything changes.
There is fine art to creating these moments. They must feel organic, yet stand above the rest of the work as something separate and unique. These are the moments where a work can turn upon itself, or reveal something previously buried.
These tipping points are the moments your readers will remember above all else. Here are a few of my favorites.
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
“There was a sound like that of the gentle closing of a portal as big as the sky, the great door of heaven being closed softly. It was a grand AH-WHOOM.
I opened my eyes – and all the sea was ice-nine.”
Vonnegut’s novel is perhaps the funniest book ever written about the apocalypse. But the moment of the world’s end is so beautifully, artfully described that it completely turns the novel on its head.
This point transforms a satirical rendering of humanity’s self-destructive tendencies into the saddest book you’ll ever read, if only for that moment.
Vonnegut’s stripped, concise prose perfectly highlights the ultimate failure of mankind, the inevitable result of our own hubris. This is utter finality – we had so many chances, but to Vonnegut, we’re just a grand disappointment.
Will the Circle be Unbroken – Bioshock Infinite
Ken Levine’s Bioshock Infinite is full of great moments, but nothing comes close to this one.
Fighting through waves of soldiers in the floating city of Colombia, Booker and Elizabeth stumble upon a guitar. For a few precious seconds, the chaos and cacophony of the city fade away.
Elizabeth’s voice is soft and clear as the notes of the guitar, and for a moment, you remember who you’re fighting for: a child, her innocence stolen by her crazed father and the insane society he’s created. A few seconds of peace amid the violence, and you suddenly remember why you’re here, and who you’ve become. Now that’s how you build a character.
The Elevator Scene – Drive
Drive is a strange film. It’s essentially a slow-paced, artfully shot character study driven by moments of intense contrast.
The elevator scene near the film’s end is a perfect a snapshot of Ryan Gosling’s quiet, understated character. We know he can fight, but there is a difference between fighting and simply acting violently.
His reaction to the man in the elevator perfectly illuminates everything we need to know about him. He is passionate and committed—he loves Irene, to the point that nothing else really exists in his world. But he is also tormented—violent to the point of terror, he destroys in the same motion that which he hates and that which he loves.
The look between the two just as the door slides shut is as perfect an interaction as you’ll find in film. It is love, both deeply professed and irrevocably destroyed.
Create Your Tipping Point
Each of these examples illuminates the effective shift of tone within the framework of a larger piece of work. They don’t function as mere plot points. These moments work because they refocus the mind of the audience, crystallizing an old theme or revealing a new one.
Powerful moments can take many forms. It’s the memory you create that counts.
Colin Griffith is the Publishing Director for Tethered by Letters. He received his undergraduate degree in 2012 from Kenyon College, where he studied English with an emphasis in film. Focused on fiction and nonfiction alike, he’s especially fascinated by science fiction, horror, and cultural commentary. In addition to editing and publishing TBL’s quarterly journal, Colin writes fiction reviews for the TBL website.
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