The first time the Magic Moment became clear to me wasn't a book: it was an opera. Les Miserables, in the original Sydney production, which was very closely based on the original London production. Since a Magic Moment is a lot easier to describe by example than definition (it tends to be one of those "you know it when you see it" things), allow me to describe it as it occurred.
This was quite early in the Sydney season, so most of the audience were seeing it for the first time. For those who aren't familiar with Les Miserables, one of the pivotal sequences is the barricades battle: Parisian students throw furniture and whatever else comes to hand into the street to create a defensive barricade of sorts. Their mini-revolution is a dismal failure: the students are killed almost to the last man (and woman). After his friend Marius is shot, the iconic leader Enjolras takes the red flag and climbs to the top of the barricade, where he waves the flag in defiance until he is shot multiple times and falls forward, over the barricade and out of sight of the audience. It's important to note that Enjolras is wearing a scarlet and gold waistcoat over a white shirt - he's one of the few splashes of color in the musical.
One of the key staging devices used in Les Miserables is a rotating section of stage. Soon after the Enjolras falls, the stage rotates, slowly and majestically. Here is the Magic Moment. The dead are scattered in front of the barricade and draped over it. Enjolras is in the center, head down, facing the audience, with his arms splayed out rather like an inverse crucifixion. The bright waistcoat and white shirt against the backdrop of his red flag pulls your eyes to him: he is absolutely the focus of attention. The audience gasped. In that one moment, the waste and pointlessness of the whole attempt at revolution came into brilliant clarity, with fiery, charismatic Enjolras as the symbol and centerpiece of the devastation.
That is my first memory of a Magic Moment, where something immensely moving and profound hits with the force of a sledgehammer and nothing is ever quite the same again.
There aren't many of them, and I've certainly never been able to write one deliberately. I think I may have managed one in Impaler, but I'm not sure. Even Pratchett only has one or two. The moment in Thud! when the terrible tragedy of Koom Valley becomes clear. The secret of the Grandfathers in Nation. They're that rare - and that precious. They also only ever have the full impact once: the first time you hit them.
Here's my attempt at a definition: a scene or image in a narrative work (i.e. opera, musical, book, play) where a number of plot and character threads connect to illustrate a deeper sense of meaning than expected.
Pretty lame, yes? But when one hits you, you know all about it. It's personal, too - because what goes into that illustration of deeper meaning is also all your experience up to that moment (which is why they only ever hit once - after that you know it's coming and the power of the moment is lost).
Here's some of the things I've identified in creating a Magic Moment:
- foreshadowing in buckets, but subtle. In Thud!, for instance, there are hints all along that Koom Valley is a lot more than we know, but Pratchett sets up an expectation that the truth will still be something more or less expected.
- strong interaction between character and plot. I've never seen a Magic Moment where the characters weren't central to the plot as it unfolded. The Koom Valley revelation in Thud! would not be the same without Vimes being present and being who and what he is.
- one or more characters is fundamentally transformed by the event. Again, in Thud!, Vimes is transformed into... well, himself. He sheds the various layers of social expectation, and in that moment is more quintessentially Vimes than we have ever seen him - and he understands and accepts that this is who he is.
I suspect there are more requirements - for a Magic Moment in a book to work, a single word that doesn't quite ring true will kill it. But when it does work... well. In all the examples I've given, I was left shaken, deeply moved, and with the books I couldn't hold them properly. My hands shook too much.
What are some of the Magic Moments you've found?