Here in the good old U S of A, tomorrow is Independence Day. Fourth of July. A day to be celebrated with picnics, swimming, barbecue, friends and/or family.
When I was a kid, “fireworks” meant going to my grandparents’ house where my grandfather would set off bottle rockets (which weren’t much to look at, but made quite the racket) and us kids would dance around with sparklers. We could go through an entire box in minutes – running around the backyard with streams of silvery (and sometimes colored) sparks trailing behind us. If we were really lucky, we got to go up and watch the giant fireworks display over the Niagara River. When we moved to Pittsburgh, we fell in love with Zambelli Brothers displays. The July Fourth show over the three rivers, set to music, is fantastic (although the crowds can be crushing).
Basically, I love fireworks. Sure they’re loud, the smoke gets to be heavy, and the crush of people can be a bit much. But there is a thrill and an excitement that is hard to beat. Showers of color, heavy explosions – few things beat the 1812 Overture set to fireworks for getting the blood pumping.
All of this leads me to think: what about fireworks in literature?
Fireworks in books doesn’t necessarily mean conflagration, physical sparks, or explosions. To me, “fireworks” is a point of tension. Something is happening. Fireworks are not a point for reflection. They are moments of action, often times of conflict.
The protagonist finally confronts the antagonist. The hero and heroine reach the make-or-break point in their relationship (maybe one of them confesses his/her feelings and is spurned by the other). The hostage is rescued through the daring escapades of the Navy SEAL team.
Something. Is. Happening.
Depending on the genre, fireworks don’t just happen once. Sure, there’s only one big Zambelli, Fourth of July, 1812 Overture moment. That’s generally your climax. But fireworks should be spread throughout the story. Sometimes, they scream like those bottle rockets – short-lived bursts of action and excitement. Other times, they trail through the narrative like those sparklers, leaving trails of bright lights that delight and enchant, fading into a delightful memory.
But whatever form they take, a good story includes fireworks. Lots of fireworks. They may be interspersed with quiet as the folk running the show (the author) primes the next round. But in a good story, they burst across the literary landscape, leaving us breathless, awed, and asking for more. The fireworks, the lead up and what happens after, is what makes us turn the page and sears the story into our minds.
So what about you, readers: What’s your favorite example of fireworks in fiction? And what authors provide the best “show”?