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.
- 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.