Writers: That “Match Out” Moment

Match Out

You know in Back to the Future, how every opportunity to return Marty to 1985 is thwarted until the last possible minute? Like, the Delorean not starting, and the chord getting unplugged, and the movie just keeps you on the edge of your seat and doesn’t let you go until you finally see those flaming tire marks lead into a bright blue flash.

And then, similarly, in Toy Story, when every hope of Woody and Buzz returning to Andy is completely dashed, with RV’s batteries running out and that ridiculous car putting out the flame on Woody’s match (I’ve always had a strong dislike for whoever’s driving that car). But that moment between the match going out and Woody using Buzz’s space helmet as a magnifier, as devastating as it is, is just so much fun! Right? Because, you know, that somehow everything just has to work out, but – how?

I’ve researched this particular kind of climactic moment that doesn’t seem to get used enough. I’ve asked people in the drama field what this particular arch in the story is called. And I’ve never gotten an answer.

Over the weekend Sarabeth and I watched the audio commentary for Monsters University. (I cannot stress how important it is for every writer or story lover to watch these valuable pieces, as I’ve learned so much from them and have helped me along as a writer.) And when the door closes on Mike and Sulley, locking them in the human world, the commentators referred to this as a “Match out” moment – referring to Woody’s match going out.

That brilliant moment when all hope not only seems lost, but is lost.

The Delorean could have simply just worked. The match could have lit the fuse to Buzz’s rocket. Mike and Sulley could have just walked back through the door without Dean Hardscrabble unplugging it.

But that’s just too easy.

Authors, writers, don’t make it easy for your protagonists! Set every obstacle you can possibly think of between them and that happy ending we all know is coming. In fact – make it completely impossible for them to get there.

Go into overtime as a storyteller and work out how your protagonist can accomplish the impossible. Make it a “match out” moment.

If you’ve read The Man in the Boxyou’ll recognize several such moments in the third act. It fuels the story, gives it that extra umph, and most of all, it shows the reader that you care.

You care enough to go that extra mile, to push your character that much further, and to entertain your audience for just a few more moments before handing them that happy ending.

Writers, get good at that “match out” moment. It could be the moment a reader falls in love with your work.

Consider me as your editor. Check out the link here.

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About adoptingjames
My lovely wife and I are foster parents, dog owners, home owners, and Christians. I am a blogger, book editor, and author. On my blog you'll read about adoption, faith topics, inspirational thoughts, and a whole lotta Disney/Pixar lovin'! For the most exciting read ever, check out my suspense/adventure novel, The Man in the Box. You. Will. Love it.

33 Responses to Writers: That “Match Out” Moment

  1. Thanks for reminding me how great these films are! I’ll definitely be taking your advice on board and will think up some “Match out” moments of my own.

  2. leolozanotv says:

    Dude, that is a great piece of advise, thanks for sharing.

  3. elixirmime says:

    Right, to refine gold or silver they have to put it under the flame so that any impurities will come to the top. Those obstacles that the protagonist has to overcome are what the story is all about.

  4. Thank you for this very helpful post. I blog about personal insights gained over twenty years as a Biblical Counselor so I rarely look at myself as a “story writer.” However, you have helped me to see how writing about “the greatest story ever told” as it impacts my life and the lives of others can and should help my readers better appreciate how that “Match Out” moment in human history–when the sinless Christ died a very public death, was resurrected three days later and continues to offer salvation and an eternal future to those who trust in Him–continues to work miracles in the hearts and minds of people today. Many thanks!!!

  5. This is a great post. I’m editing my current wip and I’ve found that they don’t have enough obstacles! I need to challenge them more. Thanks for the advice!

  6. When I decided to write a sci-fi story that avoided the typical ‘everyman or everywoman vs. epically exaggerated evil’ plot device (as seen in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games), I found that I relied on this alternate form of ‘via negativa’ suspense a lot. But I tied the happy resolution of the ‘darkest hour is just before dawn’ to a catharsis of personal change. I started this off by illustrating the idea in a story-within-a-story ( https://thismoonlesssky.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/the-zen-of-bottle-smashing/ ). After that, as my characters went through major crises later on, I referred back to that story’s key expression about unexpected personal change, ‘smashing a bottle.’

  7. Dugutigui says:

    I have nothing new to add, but I read every word of this post, so I want you to know I was here.

  8. What a great piece of advice! You delivered it clearly and concisely, using examples that click! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for dropping by Wordleberry :)

  9. Gede Prama says:

    Thank you… @ ^_^
    kindness blossoms in your heart

  10. Awesome advice, I’ll remember the “match out” metaphor, in fact I think the protagonist in my WIP has it way too easy.

  11. suzanne says:

    first of all, i love watching audio commentaries on movies. second of all, sometimes i get frustrated when authors/writers have too many “match out” moments. i’m like, “seriously?! really?!” but i think that underneath that frustration i secretly love it. i’ll keep this in mind as i wrap up my nanowrimo novel.

    • There is definitely such a thing as overkill, where it doesn’t even feel like a “match out” moment any more. Must be used sparingly or smartly. Good thing to point out!

  12. Excellent point. I have loved those times in movies, but have never truly considered them. Now I will.

  13. sherry386 says:

    I think you are referring to “deus ex machina”. This is a plot devise where a unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by a very unexpected event. I like your new term much better!

    • Me, too! Looked it up on Wickipedia, and although it conveys the same idea, it’s missing an element that I haven’t quite put me finger on… I’ll be pondering this term for a while.

  14. Bryan Caron says:

    This is also why the timer on the clock always stops with one second to spare!

  15. bgddyjim says:

    Watch Gravity – the movie is a match out moment every five minutes for two hours. Great movie but fatiguing by the end, too much even. I can’t get any deeper than that without giving it away but sheesh, I ended up not liking the movie as much because of it.

  16. Pingback: Redux: The Making Of | I Am Riding Tandem

  17. Glynis Jolly says:

    Okay, you hooked me. ‘The Man in the Box’ is on my wish list. But getting back to your suggestion for a good story — You have made me realize that I’ve been trying too hard to make average events be terrific in a story instead of making the characters go through some nasty hoops. Thanks.

  18. rhchatlien says:

    What a great term for the concept.

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