Revisiting Defining Moments

I originally posted the following thoughts on my old Live Journal blog, back on February 4, 2010. I'm glad I ran across it again. Especially right now as I try to mine a new story idea that is playing hide and seek within my brain matter, but which I can already tell will be special. What is one of your defining moments? Here are a couple of mine.

defining moment

a point at which the essential nature or character of a person, group, etc., is revealed or identified.


When I was 13, the family piled into the car and drove a couple hours to Chicago’s O’Hare airport where they waved enthusiastically as I boarded an airplane, by myself. Destination: Bordeaux, France.

I was a shy, shy kid.  On the plane, I was seated next to an older man who tried to make small talk, but I could only nod or shake my head in reply, wouldn’t make eye contact, and I’m sure my eyes were wide with fear and my breathing shallow.  He gave up shortly after take off.

Hours upon hours later, the captain announced our approach to Charles de Gaulle airport.  I pulled out my ticket in order to be well prepared for the plane change I had to make.  I noticed the baggage claim tickets said Rome, Italy.  I stared at it thinking, That doesn’t make any sense. I stole a couple stealthy glances at the old man next to me and determined he hadn’t become an ax murder on the long flight across the Atlantic. Taking a deep, fortifying breath I leaned toward him and asked, “What does this mean?” pointing to the baggage claim stubs stapled to the inside of my ticket.

“It means your bags are checked through to Rome,” he said.

Crap, that wasn’t an answer.  At least not one I wanted to hear. Now, I had to speak, out loud, to him AGAIN! Rapid blink. Gnawed lip. “I’m not going to Rome.”

“Then you’ll have to get that taken care of right away.”

The man explained, in detail thank goodness – because I’ve always been a details type of gal – how I was to go about intercepting my luggage.  I did and my bags made it to the south of France along with me.     

During my extended stay in the small town of Biganos, I wrote letters home.  Apparently I was very honest about just how homesick I felt because at 3:30 one morning, Monsieur Devaud woke me and said, “Your mama is on zee phone.” Unfortunately for the Devaud family, my mom did the math wrong and miscalculated the time difference.  However, I was thrilled to hear her voice no matter the hour.  My mom said I sounded sad and lonely in my letters and that she was really worried.  That was pretty embarrassing actually, so, I started making excuses about why I’d sounded pathetic and assured her everything was really just fine.

Then she made THEE offer.  “If you want to come home, I’ll book you a flight tomorrow.”

Well, when you put it that way…NO WAY am I leaving.  

Two defining moments in my life. Neither of which I knew were defining moments at the time. As a matter of fact, at the time I felt uncomfortable, insecure, scared. But when I look back, I know I made the right choice, not the easy choice. 


When I’m mired in the muck of creating a story, I think about these experiences in my life or others that I’ve been lucky enough to be privy to and I emulate them for my character.  I know what it feels like to be painfully shy but realize I HAVE to ask for help from a stranger.  I can still recall the depth of homesickness I felt, yet as soon as the offer to walk away was pitched to me my homesickness shattered into a million pieces and I knew I wouldn’t miss the rest of my international experience for anything.  That is splendid characterization material!

Isolate your own defining moments. Create a Defining Moments document that you add to each time you remember one.  Then if your character gets stuck in a quandary, read through your own life experiences to inspire a resolve for your character.  Heck, if you aren’t going to employ the acquired knowledge in your day-to-day sensibilities, the least you can do is ad value to your character, right?


  1. Great post. Lots to think about and great tips.

  2. I'm so glad everything worked out for you on your trip. It must have been tough since you were so young. But look at you now. Brave lady.
    Mmm, I'll have to think about my defining moments. So far, none come to mind. Thinking, thinking.
    Have a great weekend.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Three Times A Charm with Kathy Sattem Rygg