That part with all the dramatic music and amazing scenery …

 … and the main character comes to a realization of what he/she must do to move forward. It’s called the epiphany. In movies we have all the special effects and scenery in the world to keep them interesting. The main character might be on a mountaintop thinking. Or off in a canoe. Or swinging on a porch swing. Or walking through the desert with a droid. And then there’s the amazing John Williams score in the background. You know what I’m talking about.

But we don’t have that luxury in books. We have to fill in that time. Nor can we simply allude to it. We have to deliberate and reach a verdict. And for middle grade readers, we can’t afford too much navel gazing. We don’t want to to lose them.

Darcy Pattison has this helpful post on epiphanies:

But …

I’m working on the epiphany of a character-driven middle grade novel right now. And I’ve got three chapters of self-talk, dialog, rumination – some different settings, but talk nonetheless.


How do I let the reader know what my MC has learned?

So how do you do it? How do you gussy up a character-driven, middle grade epiphany? Even THAT sounds boring. What do you do to keep it interesting?

  • Make it funny?
  • Intersperse action?
  • Use the “Pope in the pool” technique from Save the Cat?
  • Keep the tension high? If so, how?

I don’t want to water it down or make it longer. So, maybe it needs less gussying and more trimming.

  • Maybe there’s more I can do with inference. 
  • Maybe I’m explicitly stating too much.

What are the best character-driven middle grade epiphanies you’ve read? How were they achieved?

Middle grade writers, HELP!

12 Responses to “That part with all the dramatic music and amazing scenery …”

  1. elly swartz

    My advice is that less is more. Tighten and trim. Really focus on the epiphany moment and work backwards. What do I really need to get there? Take out the rest. Then tighten with specifics (think sensory).I put my discarded text in a doc called "killed characters and tossed prose" just in case I ever want to resurrect. Good luck, I know it will be great!

  2. Jean Reidy

    Thanks, Elly. Great advice. Yes, I agree, less is more, for sure. I guess the section I'm struggling with is the "right after" when he realizes he's realizing. When I want him to tell the reader what he realizes – what he's learned.

  3. Anonymous

    I've never really thought of the epiphany moment as one that required a lot of thought and talk. An epiphany is just that–a bright flash that suddenly opens everything up, casts bright light on the situation, brings everything into a sharp clear focus, where the thing to do becomes obvious. So I've always thought of the epiphany moment as a few paragraphs, a cliff hanger end of the

  4. Jean Reidy

    Jeannie -<br />That&#39;s really wise advice. Because as I continue to study those chapters laden with internal monologue, I&#39;m realizing I probably don&#39;t need much of it. That I have set up the dramatic climax well enough, and that I need to trust the reader to infer much of what my MC is stating in his thoughts. And then I can play out the rest in follow-up action. So I&#39;m getting the

  5. Cynthia Levinson

    These are great questions. If I had any idea how to write fiction, I&#39;d be glad to try to help. Meantime, I look forward to everyone else&#39;s answers!

  6. Claudine G.

    I love the Lee Wyndham advice you&#39;ve included in the comments, Jean. Trimmed, quiet scenes always strike the loudest and most powerful punch (with a warm aftermath).

  7. Janet Fox

    All such excellent answers – and I agree with all.<br /><br />Something that I heard recently – I think it was from James Scott Bell – is to use a secondary character as a foil. The secondary character does or says something unrelated to the main plot but reflects that theme and that sparks the epiphany, like a fun-house mirror reflection. That way the character is in scene with either action or


    Sounds like you&#39;re on your way with such great advice. I agree about letting the reader see the change along with the character rather than too much explaining.

  9. Jenni Enzor

    Thanks for a great post! I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments too. This is something I&#39;m working on, too, and not sure if I’ve mastered yet. I believe I once read advice from Carrie Ryan to have your MC “fail” a test at the beginning of the novel, but then pass a similar test at the end–to show he/she changed.

  10. Susan L Meyer

    Hi Jean. I too agree with the &quot;less is more&quot; approach. I haven&#39;t really thought about what I do exactly, but I think I use just two or three sentences of the character thinking, here and there, interspersed with events. And a character might also engage in a small but symbolic action. So my main character in Black Radishes gives away his toy monkey, realizing he doesn&#39;t need