As I entered the elegantly refurbished Embassy Suites hotel, I was reminded of its more glamorous former life as the Hotel Portland. I was greeted by fresh flowers on an elegant pedestal table and a “Press Publish” banner emblazoned with the W-shaped WordPress logo. I had no idea what to expect as I’d never been to a blogging convention before, but I soon discovered that I was in familiar surroundings. There were hundreds of writer nerds—aka bloggers—everywhere I looked.
In total, there were over thirty different instructional seminars that covered everything from blogging basics and storytelling to learning about how various WordPress widgets can add extra functionality to your blog. Things like adding comments, social media links, guest books, and email capture were all expertly covered. I decided to attend the Writing 101 seminar hosted by Longreads founder Mark Armstrong. This choice profoundly shaped my learning experience for the day. The focus of this seminar was the art of storytelling. After some brief opening remarks by Mr. Armstrong, he introduced Mike Dang.
Wasting no time, Dang began his story. Despite his young age, his voice was grandfather-like. Speaking in a soft, even, and well-paced tone, Dang’s told a story he had told many times before. That was part of his point—that storytelling is an art that requires practice. We, the audience, were spellbound by how this story unfolded, and a palatable sense of foreboding built in the room. About one-third of the way into the story, we reached the one salient moment.
And suddenly I’m reading about me.
(Mike’s Boss), “Mike really needs to watch his mouth. I hope he chokes on some shrimp and dies. If we were alone, I would just sit there and watch him choke, grasping at the air for help.”
I immediately think: “Oh my gosh!” (because I don’t like to swear).
I hit the command-F keys to find every post that includes my name. In another vivid post, he imagines taking me for a walk and luring me into a basement, where he somehow manages to lock me in a tank of water. Rick stands there quietly and watches me drown. There’re a few more posts where he writes about not understanding why people find me likable, and then a third fantasy post about my death: I’m choking again while having dinner with him, and then my face turns blue and hits the table with a thwack. In each of his homicidal fantasies, I am suffering, flailing, and he is silently watching me die, unmoving, unfeeling.
This was my epiphany moment of the day. Like a cannon booming between my ears. I got it. This was the precise moment where his story became both important and compelling. In the written story, it is this exact moment where you can no longer stop reading or ignore the story.
It is, I believe, something all writers must deal with if they are to craft their story to its full potential. I decided that it came down to this: one salient moment. This idea that there is a specific moment in time when a story goes from a mere telling of the tale to a cherished story that all who read it remember. It is transcendent. It travels across all forms of art, sports, dance, movies, and television. It is the final pose that encapsulates the entirety of a performance—the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers strike, the imperceptible updraft that only the cliffdiver feels. It is the human element that the performer or the protagonist feels that must be transferred to the viewer, listener, or reader in such a way that the spark of our combined and collective humanness reaches through time, space, and the printed page. It is that one salient moment that overwhelms us to the point where we are compelled to say, “I want more.”