Friday, April 19, 2019

The Black Moment


Hi everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Most of the articles I write for this blog don't come from an area of expertise per se, but rather from a desire to learn how to do something better. And that is absolutely true of today’s blog post. 

Lately I’ve been researching how to deepen and improve on the black moment scenes in my books. I do this by reading books by writers I admire to see how they pull it off, reading craft books and articles on the topic, and studying my own work to see what I’ve done well and where I’ve fallen short. So today I’m going to share with you some of my lessons learned.




First, let's make sure we're all on the same page on what a black moment actually is.
My personal definition of a black moment in a romance is that moment in your book when the hero and heroine have worked through their conflicts to the point where they admit they love one another but, just when they are ready to grasp the brass ring, something happens to brutally snatch away their hope for a happily ever after – it’s that moment when the characters, and the readers, think all is lost.

The black moment is arguably the most important part of your novel. It is the moment where your characters face their ultimate test, it provides the catalyst for their greatest growth and gives them the opportunity to move to a place where they can finally overcome whatever emotional wound or lie has held them back to this point.  It is the fire that tempers your protagonists and that, once they make it through to the other side, convinces the reader that not only have they earned their happily ever after, but that it will ‘stick’.



So based on what I’ve learned from my research, here are five things to keep in mind when crafting your black moment.


  • Make sure you have an effective set-up. The protagonists, despite their conflicts, should have been moving forward in their romantic relationship. And they should have been making strides toward working through their issues, perhaps have even convinced themselves that they can put those issues/conflicts behind them and grasp for a HEA. But in the black moment scene this forward momentum must appear to be a mistake to your protagonist, that they were wrong to open themselves up in whatever way they did.
  • Many writers explain that you can figure out your black moment in one of two ways. Either:
    • Ask what would your character NEVER do and then put them in a position to have to do it. This one always confused me because there are lots of things my characters would never do – murder someone for instance.
  • or
    • Ask what is the worst that can happen. Again, this is way too broad for me.
    • So instead I ask myself, based on the character arc I’ve set up for this character, what trial does he need to face to test his growth. This way I know exactly what kind of issue will trigger the black moment. Is his arc to go from craving isolation to wanting to become part of a community – have the black moment be triggered by a perceived betrayal by his community. Is her arc based on moving from refusing to trust anyone to opening herself up to trusting the hero? Then have her face some so-called evidence that he has betrayed her trust.

  • Along those same lines, your black moment should always be individual to your protagonists. Generic just won’t cut it if you want this to have the impact all authors strive for. It should flow directly from your character arcs, from the very personal emotional wounds or lies they are living with, the internal conflict that is at the very heart of your story.
  • Don’t skimp on this scene. Take the time to make sure your reader feels every bit of the agony and despair your character is enduring. Show both the outward and inward turmoil both the hero and heroine are experiencing.
    • Don’t pull your punches. I know we love our characters, but the black moment is the time to put them under extreme pressure, to strip away the illusion that they’ve overcome their deep-seated issues, bring them to their knees and make them face the fact that they could lose any hope of an HEA. Think of it this way – the darker and more crippling the black moment, the sweeter the eventual payoff of the resolution and happy ending.
    So there you have it - my 5 tips for crafting a great Black Moment. What do you think? Do you agree with these? Do you have other tips to offer? Please share your thoughts.

    PS: When I penned this post I didn't think about it going up on Good Friday, but it does seem oddly appropriate, since this day represents the ultimate black moment and is the lead in to the ultimate happily forever after.

    30 comments:

    1. Hi Winnie:

      I agree with all your tips and it would be nice for readers if more authors heeded them. I don't have tips but I will say what I like in a black moment…and like very much.

      1. I like the black moment to have been unpredictable and to hit the reader by surprise.

      2. I don't want the black moment to be solvable by having a simple conversation which will clear up a misunderstanding. The black moment should seem to the reader at first to be unsolvable.

      Below is what I would like to be saying to myself when I encounter a very good black moment:

      "Wow! I didn't see that coming and I don't know how the author is going to solve the problem."

      3. I'd like the black moment to be comprised of three or four or even more different streams of conflict and not just a single problem. The streams of conflict should converge at the black moment. When this happens the black moment will seem to be more realistic and the resolution more hopeless.


      Of course, this is just what I like most to read and enjoy. They are not based on any research. Thanks for you post and have a blessed Easter experience in Christ risen.

      Vince

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    2. Good morning, Winnie. Excellent post, as always. You are right that you can't skimp on the black moment. That's where all of the characters' emotions come to a climax and, if done correctly, leaves the reader as heartbroken as the characters themselves. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips.

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      1. Definitely heartbreaking for the reader, Mindy! I love it stated that way.

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      2. Glad you enjoyed the post Mindy. And I absolutely agree that this scene needs to be an emotional gut punch for the reader.

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    3. Good morning Winnie, 'black moment' in fiction is a new term for me but many humans have faced black moments in their lives. Moments when they are faced with circumstances that that are foreign to them and their decisions may involve actions that they would never normally consider.
      I wish you a blessed Resurrection Sunday, the result of the ultimate black moment.

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      1. Hello Connie. You are so right about real life black moments. And I wish you a blessed Easter as well.

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    4. Winnie, this does seem like an oddly appropriate day for this post. Jesus did live the black moment in the very realest of ways. And, His raising from the dead is a powerful epiphany, isn't it?

      A couple things I've learned (from Susan May Warren) about black moments is that, when we know our characters' dark moments that brought about their wound, lie, and fear, is that the black moment needs to be the lie appearing true and the greatest fear coming to reality and our characters have to walk through this.

      Admittedly, I tend to overthink their wounds, lies, and fears, but when I have it nailed, it's easier to understand what their black moment needs to look like.

      I like your take on this too, for the romance. That the thing they'd hoped for, that they'd opened themselves up to, seems like it will be impossible to become reality. Great thoughts here today!

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      1. Jeanne, I love Susie's plotting methods. Thanks for sharing that thought on finding the black moment.

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      2. Hello Jeanne. I've taken several of Susie's classes and I like her concept of the wound and the lie that defines them. And I think diving depp (not overthinking :) ) helps make your story stronger! Glad you enjoyed the post.

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    5. Winnie, what a great post! The black moment is one of my favorite scenes to write! I love these tips. You pointed out some of the thoughts that have confused me as well, so thank you for coming up with your own description of what you want to do in the black moment.

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      1. Hi Missy! I won't say it's one of my favorites to write since I still agonize over it. And I'm so glad my view of how to approach it resonated with you.

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    6. Thanks for the great tips, Winnie. I agree that Good Friday was a most appropriate day. Happy Easter to you.

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      1. Glad you found some tips in the post you can use, and a very happy and blessed Easter to you as well.

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    7. Hi Winnie! I always look forward to your posts. Thank you for another great one.

      I struggle with the Black Moment. I'm constantly looking for a better way to write it, and your 5 tips have helped!

      Have a wonderful weekend. Good Friday, the day of waiting, and then the Happiest Ending of All: Resurrection Sunday!

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      1. Awww, thanks Jan. I'm glad my tips helped. And happy Easter weekend to you as well.

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    8. Thank you Winnie, Vince, and others. I need help in this area so this is great information.

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      1. Hi Bettie. As I said up front, my posts usually come from my own desire to learn more about a specific topic. So I don't claim to be an expert, just someone trying to improve.
        Happy Easter weekend.

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    9. You named this nemesis of mine. The Black Moment, huh? I struggle with it as I'm naturally adverse to conflict. Making my characters go through it is hard but necessary. I always want to hurry and get past it. Guess I'll be spending more time in the black from now on.

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      1. Cindy, you absolutely want to take your time with this scene and wrest all the emotion you can from it. Your readers will thank you for it! :)

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    10. My sister tells me my books read a lot like a Hallmark movie. My sweet husband doesn't "get" Hallmark movies. He says, "But it would have all worked out an hour ago if they had just talked to each other." So, I guess, maybe we just need to make sure our characters don't talk to each other for several chapters after the misunderstanding (black moment) to really heighten the tension of it. Ha! This is where my muddled brain went as I read your excellent post.
      And I thought your ps was perfect.

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      1. Reading like a Hallmark movie is not a bad thing - in fact those movies are VERY popular with romance readers. And one common outcome of the Black Moment is that the hero and heroine are separated for a time. But take care - you really don't want the conflict to be so 'surface' that one simple conversation could clear it up - it needs to go deeper than that.

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    11. Thanks Winnie for your post. I've been reading through "Save the Cat for Novelists" and the black moment is so crucial to the storyline. It makes sense as you read about it but to put in into practice takes such skill to draw the reader through the despair, I hope to aspire to that one day. It's a challenge to come up with believable conflict in the first place, but to throw more wood on the fire...oy vy! Lee-Ann B

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      1. Oh, I love the Save The Cat books. And building strong internal conflicts is my Achilles heel, it's one of the last things I nail down. But once I have that in place, the dark moment comes much easier (though they are still a lot of work to execute effectively)

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    12. Lovely, Winnie. I'll add to your Good Friday analogy. Christ is the perfect hero, who sacrifices himself for the good of all mankind...and would have done it just for you or just for me.

      I usually have the black moment tie in with the hero or heroine's inner wound, which you explained so beautifully. We see eye to eye on black moments, Winnie!

      Happy Easter to you and yours.

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      1. Thanks for the lovely sentiments Debby. And so glad to hear we see eye to eye on this. Wishing you a happy and blessed Easter.

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    13. This is just outstanding and it's true on a smaller scale for the disaster of each scene. The same guidance follows and you really reminded me of that. Hauge says scenes should end with the character in worse shape than when the scene started. And if you remember these tips, you are prepared to do that. "Ask what is the worst that can happen." This is perfect on a scene level as well. THANK YOU! Even old dogs need reminders.

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