Pivotal moments

I’m working on SPARK (The Elemental Series, Book 2) right now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about pivotal moments. I know good plotting is always about choices (good or bad), especially when each choice leads to a new conflict.

About ten years ago, I was driving somewhere for work, and I knew I needed gas. I could have made it to my destination without stopping, so I considered waiting and going after. But I had a little bit of time to kill, and I kinda needed a stick of gum before meeting new people, so I decided to stop first.

If you’re familiar with Westminster, Maryland, you’ll know that Route 140 is basically a four lane highway, divided by a grass median, with lots of shops and gas stations and restaurants all the way from Reisterstown to Union Bridge — with lots of space between. I stopped at an Amoco Station, shoved the gas pump into the car, and walked into the little shop.

When I went in, the shop was completely silent. There was a guy behind the counter, and there was another man standing a few feet back, his hands in the pocket of his sweatshirt. Since it was Westminster, which is mostly farm land when you get past the shops, both guys were pretty casual, both needed a shave, and neither was older than thirty-five.

But they were just standing there. No one was saying anything.

So I grabbed a pack of gum from in front of the register, glanced at the guy with his hands in his pockets, and said, “I don’t want to jump in front of you.”

He hesitated and said, “No. No, you go ahead.”

And while I was paying, he walked out.

I stood there with cash in my hand, but the cashier watched the guy leave. Then he finally took my cash and rang me up.

While he was handing me my change, he said, “I’m glad you walked in. That guy was about to pull a gun on me.”

A gun! I’d walked in on an almost-holdup!

Now, I have no idea whether the guy really had a gun in the pocket of his sweatshirt. I was in my early twenties, and I lived a pretty sheltered life. The cashier could have been wrong.

But it was a pivotal moment in a lot of ways. That guy could have pulled a gun. He could have shot the cashier. He could have shot me. He could have held us hostage.

Moreover, I could have kept on driving, gotten gas after my meeting, and that guy could have held up the store without interruption.

I know this is a pretty boring story, now that you know how it ended.

But I think that’s why I keep thinking about it. Because it could have been so much more exciting (and not necessarily in a good way), just by virtue of one choice.

Can you think of any pivotal moments in your life? Any time that a choice may have seemed like nothing, but turned out to be huge?

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4 thoughts on “Pivotal moments

  1. When I was a freshman in high school I signed up for Speech and Debate because I thought it would turn me into someone straight out of a West Wing episode. Instead, I was the only freshman girl on the team and our coach consciously made my life a living hell. She told me that I had no friends, that nobody liked me, that I was immature, etc. It was so devastating to my self-esteem and general welfare that I had to quit the team.
    Now when I look back at that class I am SO thankful I took it. Because if my teacher hadn’t been such an unbelievably cruel human being, I wouldn’t have vented my feelings through fiction. If I hadn’t written a novel about Speech and Debate in high school, I wouldn’t have gone to the Willamette Writers Conference. No autobiography for Marni. Also, no agent, no four book deal with KTeen, and no friendship with you!
    That class was a pivotal moment for me, even though it was one of the crappiest experiences of my life. I tend to think that what makes pivotal moments great isn’t so much the moment itself, but the way it shapes you as a person. I hope that makes sense!

  2. @Marni Bates

    Both of your pivotal moments are absolutely amazing. It’s always crazy to see what one small thing can change. One moment that will always stick with me was when I read Broadway actor Anthony Rapp’s autobiography. He talked about a nigh when some people were joyriding, pulling cars over, and shooting people. They were going to pull his car over, too, but someone saw baby Anthony in the backseat and left the family alone.

    I don’t have a big moment like either of you. The biggest thing I can think of is the fact that I used to be obsessed with a TV series called Sailor Moon. It led me to make friends online and get better at writing when I did fanfiction and got critiqued. It expanded my interest in Japanese culture and I eventually went and taught over in Japan for two years. I wouldn’t have gone on that path at all if it hadn’t started with a show. But that’s so…flimsy compared to the moments you both shared!

  3. I can’t think of anything in my own life right now, but there’s that story going about on yahoo this week of the guy who stopped to fix a flat for two women one night on the road, and two miles later, the women — one of whom was a nurse — saw his car off to the side of the road. He’d had a heart attack, and the women whose flat he fixed saved his life.
    I’d call that a pivotal moment, but it wasn’t mine.

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