What is the Black Moment?

In a nutshell, the Black Moment is the point in a story where all appears lost for the protagonist or where the plot explodes. In a romance, it is when the hero and heroine appear to the reader to have no hope for that Happily Ever After. Their developing relationship is doomed.

What makes a good black moment? A storyline that steadily sows the seeds for disaster, for heartbreak, for the hero and heroine to be forced to face a crisis and what seems to be insurmountable odds for happiness together. It should develop naturally from an issue that at least one of the characters has feared or felt strongly about and it should involve the conflict at the heart of the story. It should be individual to each specific character.

In a Donald Maass workshop he suggests using one of the following for creating a heart-wrenching black moment:
* Know the one thing your character would never do, then make him/her do it.
* Know the one thing your character would never sacrifice, then make him/her sacrifice it.
* Know your character's greatest fear, then make him/her face it.

Facing the black moment in his/her life makes the character stronger. It should lead to character growth through having to change in some way or make a compromise in order to save the previously failing relationship.

What makes a bad black moment? A moment in a story that really doesn't give the reader the full experience of wrenching ups and downs in the characters' lives is a poorly written black moment, a gray moment. For example, a disappointing black moment is when it involves something that could be easily discovered by asking a question or by the charactes having a simple discussion. Another is using a coincidence or misunderstanding as the cause for the black moment. And making a dark moment in the story too brief isn't satisfying to a reader either.

7 comments:

Nina Sipes said...

Starla, Good explanation. I've never really understood a 'black moment'. I've heard we're supposed to torture our characters, but the way you explained it. Woowie. I'm glad to be me and not one of them.

Roxann Delaney said...

Whoa! Now that's a great explanation!!

Gotta print that one out and save it.

It should lead to character growth through having to change in some way or make a compromise in order to save the previously failing relationship.Yes! Yes!

Admitting a fault is good for some characters. More often than not, it's admitting it to themselves that's the biggie.

Joan Vincent said...

Starla,
You really nailed it with "It should develop naturally from an issue that at least one of the characters has feared or felt strongly about and it should involve the conflict at the heart of the story." A terrific explanation

Roxann Delaney said...

I agree about the "issue" thing, Joan. Starla had me going, "Wait! Did I do that in (whatever) book?" A real yikes moment. A definite eye-opener.

Penny Rader said...

Great job, Starla! I'm going to print this off for use with my own writing.

I especially like the part from Donald Maass's workshop. Thanks for sharing!

Reese Mobley said...

Good job, Starla! Now we all know why black moments are so critical.
Thanks for the lesson.

Pat Davids said...

Really great post, Starla.
I'm going to print this one out and keep it handly for my next plotting day.
Pat