>The ‘What the?’ Moment.

Now you’re wondering what I mean. The ‘What the?’ moment comes in a book set in our world, a ‘trespass’ book as Scott Westerfeld puts it.

Scott says, ‘In “Trespass” stories, a stranger comes to town. Something fantastic—whether The X-Files’ aliens or Anne Rice’s vampires—invades our familiar world of credit cards and disposable razors. Reality is shown to have cracks and fissures we haven’t seen before.’

The ‘What the?’ moment is when the protagonist realises something is not right, he/she is still in Kansas, but something that shouldn’t be in Kansas, is there with them. It might be vampires, werewolves, or aliens. Scott Westerfeld has a great article here on the topic.

I was doing a manuscript appraisal for someone. They’d written a ‘Narnia’ type book, where a child goes through a portal to another world. And they’d spent a long time building up to accepting that the portal was there. I said to them, the story doesn’t start until the child goes through to the other world. Your reader knows what sort of book this is from the blurb on the cover, they are going to get bored with the build up, they just want to get into the story.

If I wanted a book where I was wallowing in contemporary life, I’d read that kind of book. If I pick up a trespass book about the weird and wonderful coming to the mundane world, then I’m not going to balk at accepting that vampires are real. I want to get on with the story. It annoys me when a character refuses to see what is right in front of them.

My favourite ‘What the?’ moment came from Buffy. In the episode when Oz is bitten by a werewolf and starts to turn, the clues point to another agressive male student but it turns out, Oz was bitten by his nephew, Timothy (?). When he rings his uncle to find out what’s going on you only hear his side of the conversation. From memory Oz says something like ‘So Timothy is a werewolf.’ Like that explains a lot and there is no Gosh Wow, moment of denial. It was such a delicious moment, I laughed aloud.

Can you think of good ‘What the?’ moments in books or films that handled the introduction of the outre cleverly or amusingly?


  1. >This is embarrassing – I can't think of anything moderately recent. I liked the way the Narnia books handled it – that "ooh WOW" sense for most of them.I'm clearly brain-dead tonight. Hopefully someone else will think of something better 🙂

  2. >I don't read a lot of Urban Fantasy,(other than in slush) so all I'm coming up with is Men In Black. (Hangs head in shame).I know what you mean though. That sudden "Wait, what just happened?" I've never heard the term 'trespass' book before. I like it.

  3. >In Monster Hunter, Inc. Larry Correia takes us from a mundane office scene to a battle with a werewolf in like three sentences. By the time the reader even knows what's happening, the office is torn apart and the werewolf is dead. It was a great moment.

  4. >JORDY.My favorite moment in tv EVER "I see. How long has Jordy been… lycantropic?" (sp?)and btw my issue is that it still has to make sense for the CHARACTER. I mean, I put it up front, but the character might take a little longer to 'get there'. As in in my books sometimes you've cross the portal, but you're still denying the fantastic. OTOH the reader can SEE it.To me, crossing the portal bizarrely evokes The Number of The Beast — when they tango and he proposes, even though they just met. Yeah, it is an in-joke to author. But it is also the moment you go "oooh. These people are interesting."(Which btw ties to your post last week. On that, heaven help me… Rowena, that picture. My mind kept seeing them as buttocks. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.)

  5. >Matapam,Yes, I like the term Trespass. The outre has permeated the mundane world.I didn't used to read much of this sort of thing because it always annoyed me — the way the cross over to our world was handled. The first example that I really liked was the early Anita Blake books.

  6. >Sarah,I never thought of that connotation with the photo. Sigh. Now I can't stop thinking it!And you're right. The reaction has to make sense for that particular character. Oz was a great character.

  7. >Odd. The long-playing TV drama here in Japan (15 minutes a day, six days a week, for six months) happened to have as today's short tale the 20 year old daughter discovering that Grandpa is human, too. Start with him turning up on the doorstep of her apartment. Then when she's trying to find out what he's doing there, he admits that he's hoping that she (a reporter on a very small magazine) will take her to meet… and he shows her this old woman in a picture in an article that she wrote. She says sure, but who is she? And he kind of hems and haws, and finally admits that he knew her. When he was young. You can see the 20 year old working on this, and suddenly her eyebrows go up, she gasps… and asks if this was when he was married to Grandma. He shakes his head and says no. But — I think that was a "normal fiction" version of a "what the ?" moment. When her world shifts, and she realizes that Grandpa had girlfriends! Interesting. Thanks!

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