This post came to me when I woke up at the crack of dawn to type out a scene for a WIP so apologies if I get a little rambly–short and sweet isn’t something I can achieve at 5 AM (or ever). But yeah, the title says it all! These are scenes that get me swooning every time I encounter them in SFF (though you can obviously find them in other genres too).
I’ve gotten used to doing lists of five with Top 5 Wednesday, so I’ll list five for now and save the rest for a part 2! (So she says)
I have no idea if this is the official name for the trope, but I saw it in an article years ago so that’s what I’ve been calling it ever since. It basically describes the rush of pleasure we get when we see or read about characters doing the things that they’re experts at. It’s something we see in superhero and heist films all the time.
With books, I find the effect most potent when the character does their expert thing in front of an audience:
An investigator moving through a crime scene–eyes bright, brain whirling–and describing step by step, in lurid detail, what’s transpired in the room.
A new recruit stepping into the sparring circle and demonstrating to a gaggle of sneering, catcalling soldiers what real swordplay looks like.
Our brains think competence is super sexy and I can’t say that I disagree.
The Unmasked Hero
That moment when the secret princess/prince/person of important personage who’s been hiding their identity for multiple books finally rips their mask off to the world and goes, “Yes, I am that person of important personage. Quake, you tiny mortals” (in those exact words, yes).
It’s deliciously validating and sets shivers down my spine every time.
A Moment of Respite
Out of all the moments in the Realm of the Elderlings books–ones with dragons and intrigue and horrific raiders and heart-pounding battles–there’s one that is an absolute favourite of mine. And it’s a scene where the characters do a bunch of chores together.
There’s no action. No intrigue. No talking about what they have to do next. Just three characters basking in each other’s friendship, telling stories, lazying around, and living moment to moment.
In terms of plot, it’s a useless scene.
And it’s also a brilliant scene. Because while inconsequential to the plot, it’s 100% percent consequential to the characters, and the book–the series–can’t exist without it.
And we see it in video games all the time. Remember the guitar scene in Bioshock: Infinite? Completely unnecessary. Completely optional. The entirety of Mass Effect‘s Citadel DLC? Wholly skippable. And yet also not.
I love, love seeing characters take a break from the saving-the-world business to do mundane things and talk about mundane things, because though they may not know what tomorrow will bring–what horrors they’ll face–today they’re here and alive and together. And in that brief moment they’re no heroes tasked with slaying dragons. They’re just people having a good time.
And later, when everything goes to shit, it’s these moments that the characters and you, the reader, remember the most.
Two enemies forced to work together
This relates to the enemies-to-lovers trope as they’re both basically about sticking two characters in one room and seeing what kind of sparks will fly. It doesn’t matter the situation. Maybe they’re literally stuck in a room and have to work together to get themselves out. Maybe a bigger, badder baddie has entered the picture so they reluctantly agree to pool resources because the enemy of my enemy and all that. However it happens, I love the banter that comes out it and I love seeing them grudgingly save each other’s hides all the while slinging insults. And if by the end of it they realize that they actually work really well together? Even better.
Protagonist and Antagonist having a nice drawn-out conversation
I feel like we see this in manga/anime/light novels more often than in western media and I always use Fate/Zero as an example. The show dedicates the entirety of one episode to setting three enemy characters down in a circle and having them engage in a debate on what it means to be a good king. Opinions clash. Harsh words are exchanged. Beliefs get shaken. And you glean more about the characters in those 20 minutes than you do in all previous episodes combined.
And what’s even more interesting is what happens after such a conversation.
Maybe the protagonist spirals into a crisis of faith, but after some intensive soul-searching, emerges with a stronger, more comfortable hold on their ideals. Or maybe not–maybe they start crumbling under the weight of their newfound doubt which gets their goals skidding in wild directions. Maybe both characters come away from the exchange rattled and holding pieces of one another that they never wanted in the first place.
There are few things I love more than seeing two enemy characters challenge each other intellectually and spiritually, and this one conversation can take the story in an infinite number of fascinating directions.
Plus I just want something a little more stimulating than an antagonist monologuing for three pages with the protagonist quipping at the end with a “Fuck you.” (Unless the former is arguing the merits of murdering puppies and small children and suggesting the protagonist join them in this endeavour. Then yes, a hearty “FU” would be the preferred response.)