Dangerous Moments Roswell Jason Behr as Max Evans

August 5, 2023

So last September (yes, 2022 not long after I finished my MFA) I started thinking a lot about plot as I struggled with Arizona. The story still wasn’t quite right and I couldn’t figure out what was not clicking. As I was thinking through what I was aiming for–what would make it feel like a good story to me–I looked at the stories I think really work and tried to figure out what they have in common. What I came up with is that each have a dangerous moment, when a character chooses to do the exact opposite of what they’ve wanted all along in the story.

That’s the climax, or what makes a climax spectacular rather than perfunctory, at least for me. It’s a terrible choice but they make it anyway.

I realized I love that moment in stories.

And I love when the story earns it; when it isn’t just words they said once in a scene but when we have evidence of them turning away from that, choosing something else, feeling the dread of thinking if that ever came to pass… and then whabam! faced with two prospects the character valiantly chooses the thing that requires courage, requires fortitude and strength.

And like a picture is worth a thousand words… sometimes an example is easier than a definition.

Dangerous Choices

TWILIGHT Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen
TWILIGHT | Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen (Summit)


really you haven't read Twilight? »

The dangerous choice in the first book is when Edward bites Bella. He’s been resisting biting her the whole book and then when he has to choose between letting her turn and siphoning out the venom, he chooses this thing he’s been fighting this whole time.

I think the moment is totally underserved in the movie because he’s forced into an interesting and powerful choice.

SIGNS Mel Gibson Touchstone
SIGNS | Mel Gibson as Graham Hess (Touchstone)


M. Night Shyamalan has some things he does well and some things he’s falters on. Signs, though, is my favorite of his movies because the narrative threads that coalescence in the end are so brilliant.

Signs spoilers »

Of those threads, Merrill choosing to swing is the powerful one, the dangerous moment.

He steps into who he was meant to be, this version of himself he’s spent years resisting, and he does it in a way that saves them. I know the story is really about Mel Gibson’s Graham, but Swing away, Merrill is the climax of the story.

MISTBORN Vin by Altredez21
MISTBORN Vin by Altredez21

Mistborn | The Hero of the Ages

There’s two climaxes in Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of the Ages. Because if the climax is the character making a difficult choice, then there can be a climax for each character, right?

book 3 in a series spoilers »

Elend has perhaps my favorite now, though the first time I read it, Vin and Marshall and Sazed all had great, satisfying choices. But there’s something about Elend burning Atium knowing it’s going to kill him, knowing it’s going to kill them all, but he chooses to sacrifice himself to stop Ruin, to fight and give everything until the end.


Occasionally a story can pull off a dangerous moment apart from the climax. The original Roswell opens with a dangerous choice, and it works really well to engage with the characters fast.

Watch the video and then this isn't a spoiler »

The moment feels dangerous and not because Liz is dying–we don’t know Liz yet or care if she lives or dies. But we can feel that he’s making a dangerous choice, that he’s sacrificing something in this moment, partly from Michael’s reaction. And it really works. I adore the opening moments of the original Roswell. Those first 4 minutes are like magic, mostly because of the song but still.

The problem is, they didn’t follow that moment with a strong enough story that builds to an actual climax, so the rest of the episode is really weak.

ROSWELL NEW MEXICO Pilot 1x01 Jeanine Mason as Liz Ortecho Nathan Parsons as Max Evans The CW
ROSWELL NEW MEXICO Pilot 1×01 | Jeanine Mason as Liz Ortecho, Nathan Parsons as Max Evans (The CW)

Roswell, New Mexico

In comparison, the new Roswell has a stronger first episode overall, but doesn’t feel like it has a dangerous moment.

the story is the same, the players are different »

The new Roswell plays Max saving Liz as the inciting incident–it changes things but there’s nothing dangerous about it. We don’t get the sense that he’s making a choice he’s been resisting his whole life so the audience doesn’t feel how terrible of a choice this is for Max or get a sense that this is a very dangerous thing he’s doing.

That leaves the story room to move afterward so it ascends from there to the point where he tells her the truth about his origins. He chooses to share a secret he’s been hiding his whole life. It works as a climax, but doesn’t feel as strong or powerful as some of the other examples.

I think choosing trust and vulnerability are markers of romance genres. And while there’s a feeling of one character being unsafe emotionally, that’s not quite the same as a dangerous moment. Though I’m not sure yet how to put into words that it feels softer and safer, and less interesting.

Wolf by Andrew Ly
Wolf by Andrew Ly


There’s a choice in Forever that could have been a dangerous moment, but it’s all potential rather than payoff.

once again book 3 in a trilogy spoilers »

When Sam decides to become a wolf, he makes a choice he fought in the first book, toyed with the idea of and avoided in the second book (when it wasn’t a threat to him), but one of his themes throughout the series is that he wants to remain human. Then he chooses to do this last thing in the world he wants, because maybe there’s no coming back from it, but he does it to save Grace and save the wolves.

It’s clearly not the narrative thread Stiefvater chose to pursue because, like the moment in Twilight, it’s there but barely and then the story moves on to the “climax.”

The lesson from these examples, then, is that the more build up there is to the choice, the more dangerous it feels to the character. Dangerous moments are worth dwelling in enough to make sure they hit the audience rather than skim by. And climaxes are more interesting when they have a dangerous moment that’s interesting, fulfilling and exciting rather merely a cog in the larger climax.

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