When Zoe was trying to beat Kate in a friendly race home, she decided to run a red light. “She was thinking about Adam. Here, at her physical limit, she felt her dead brother wathcing her with the same curious, unabashed gaze that Sophie had shown her earlier that day.”
Really?!? At that moment, when the brain is doing a gazillion calculations on whether this fragile body on a bike can zip across an intersection soon to be filled with moving cars, she was thinking of … her dead brother???
I call this catapulting. Instead of subtly lifting a scene into a moment of clarity, as James Joyce and Henry James are so good at doing (think of the wonderful adjectives they use that only belong to, say, Stephen Daedalus or Maisie), this example goes to the extreme and among the many things Zoe can think of, chooses the most sensational, the one that packs 20 tons of pathos. The reader is flung so sky high that it’s impossible to regain footing for another 20 pages. This is how maximizing on emotions becomes schmaltz. Unfortunately, that moment of Zoe’s “decision point” was actually quite thrilling—up until that point when Adam showed up.