Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Penny Drop Moments

Guest Blogger: Tracey O'Hara who just yesterday signed a two book deal with Harlequin Spice Briefs!

I am very honoured to be invited here to guest post on your blog, CJ. Extra Pixie dust for you. =)

I have been writing for just over 4 years and every day I learn something new, whether it is about the craft, my characters or my story. But some of the best have been those “penny drop” moment.

You know the ones. It is when something suddenly becomes clear – something you may have been previously struggling with or something that just occurs to you. I love those moments.

One of my most memorable came about from contest feedback. I’d been struggling with the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ concept. Then one of the judges sent me an article on Deep POV. I realised that I was explaining what the character was doing and feeling. Instead I could ‘show’ what it was like in her head. The opening paragraph of my ms was -

The tropical night air hung thick and humid around Antoinette, as she crept quietly along the dank alley. Her clothes felt sticky against her skin and a tendril of hair, that escaped her braid, clung to the back of her neck. But she was only vaguely aware of these things as her eyes strained into the darkness ahead, searching.

Then I walked in her shoes – imagined what it would be like to creep down a dark alley on a hot and humid night – to feel the thick heavy air slicking hot sweat on my skin, sticking the t-shirt material to my body. And that is what I wrote. It was like being struck by lightning. All of a suddenly it made perfect sense. I got what the contest judges had been telling me. My new paragraph went like this -

The alley stretched ahead, dark and ominous...yet Antoinette moved forward, one deliberate step after another. Perspiration beaded on her upper lip, she ran a hand across her face to wipe it away before the saltiness slipped unwelcome to the corners of her mouth.

Damn this heat.

Sweat trickled down her back, robbing her of more precious moisture and she tugged the damp t-shirt away from her sticky skin. Sucking humid air into her lungs was like trying to breathe through a warm wet blanket.

I’ll be forever thankful to that judge in helping me discover that ‘ah-ha’ moment. I now aspire to help other new writers to have those moments, to give back what someone gave to me. This is my most intense ‘penny drop’ moment.

Reader Question: Do you have a moment like this, where you writing suddenly jumps from level to another as you finally understand?

Tracey O'Hara writes both paranormal and erotica and lives in the land down under. You can learn more about her and writing at her website.


  1. Thanks for sharing Tracey!

    I had the same POV moment reading an article about 1st person vs third person and all the ranges in between.

    It was a real eye-opener and I altered one of my novels pretty significantly because of it.


  2. Mine was when Celeste Bradley pointed out the concept of POV head-hopping and how badly I was doing it!

    Whoa...I should write an entire scene from one person's POV? Wow!!

    Penny drop. Lol.

    My writing improved significantly over that one.

  3. Great post, Tracey! Thanks for sharing and congrats on your sale!!

    Mine came a full year (yes, apparently I'm slow) after taking Deb Dixon's Goal Motivation and Conflict workshop. I was in the middle of a deep revision thanks to a stellar critique, when I realized that part of the problem with the story was my heroine's goal was undefined. Her goal had always been "to do her job" -- rather vague and uninteresting. I realized this wasn't strong enough motivation for some of her later actions in the story. So I added a very important reason why she HAD to do her job. Suddenly everything clicked and the story took off from there.

  4. Hi Tracey,

    Congratulations again on your sale! Is this your first ever? Must be thrilling!

    My penny drop moment was also from a contest judges comments. I think my sentence was something lame like: She pursed her plump lips... And the judge said, 'do you really think she thinks about her own lips this way?'
    It just hit me then how every word has to be from the character's POV, not from a narrator's POV. I still sometimes make similar mistakes, but at least I can catch them when I read it over later.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts! Cheers,


  5. Tracey,

    I enjoyed hearing about your penny drop moment. It's so cool when something clicks, isn't it?

    One of my moments happened at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference this past spring. I attended Angela Hunt's major fiction writing track. During her discussion on crafting a great hook, she asked people to jot down the first line of their WIP.

    When Angie read the sentences later, she asked us to raise our hands if the hook made us hungry to hear more. It was amazing to watch the hands fly up on the good ones. They stood out.

    I finally learned what a hook is all about. Definitely a penny drop moment.

  6. Interesting reading about your lightbulb moment, Tracey. I've had a few over the years, but the most significant was probably more than one moment, but a general realisation about the structure of a good plot while I was taking Mary Buckham's Plotting with Mythic Structure workshop based on the hero's journey.

  7. Tracey, what a brilliant show of what you learned! Completely awesome. :-) And mega Pixie congrats to you!!!!

    I've had so many aha moments. My most recent was about having scene action be authentic to the story - moving the story forward along with adding conflict and interest. There are sooo many things to remember for us, aren't there?

  8. Tracey,

    Good topic, and I love the term 'penny drop'! :-) I really enjoyed reading people's stories of 'penny drop' moments. Had me smiling. I have had such moments too, about POV and tension in particular.

    The 'penny drop' or 'light bulb' moments I love most are the ones related to a particular story. When you finally find a way out of a sticky plot point, or you get a great idea for a plot *complication*, or you suddenly understand WHY the hero or heroine did something.

    I love writing. Sigh.

    Great topic, Tracey, and again, congrats on the sale!

  9. Tracey, I had never heard of "penny drop moments" but I love the term. The rest of the crew here named some great ones.

    For me, it's usually 2 steps forward and 1 step back. When I finally get something right I wish I could bottle it up and pull it out whenever I need it, but it can be hard to pin down those nuances.

    Congrats on your sale! Hope you're celebrating.

  10. Katy
    Isn't it a wonderful feeling and sense of achievment when it happens.

  11. CJ - can't you just hear the kerplunk. :)

  12. Susan - it took me a while to get the hang of it.

    Rachel - contest are such a great learning tool.

    Keli - the hook is very important - it is amazing how many stop reading becasue the first paragraph doesn't grab them.

    Yay Helen for the good plott realisation.

    DArcy, thanks for the compliment and yes I've had many more, but that was one of the significant ones.

    Thanks Kris and Anne - yes 'Penny drop' is probably an english/aussie term.


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