by Susan May Warren, @SusanMayWarren
I just had to say that because I see so many manuscripts that pull their punches on the Black Moment. Authors have fallen in love with their characters and they just don’t want to hurt them. But creating a powerful Black Moment is what both the character and the reader need to convince them they must change.
So, how do you create a powerful Black Moment?
First…let’s just take a look at the Black Moment Flow Chart:
Dark Moment of the Past (Greatest Fear + Lie) = Black Moment Event = Black Moment Effect = Epiphany = Character Change.
Again, how do we find the Black Moment? We go into our character’s backstory and find a DARK MOMENT in their past that has shaped them, ask them to tell us about it (in a journal entry, so we can use it later), and then pull out from it the Greatest Fear and the Lie. The Greatest Fear is the EVENT you will recreate in some form, and the LIE is what you will make your character believe is True, and inescapable as an EFFECT of the Black Moment.
The result of this is the Truth setting your character free, (finally!) and then a Character Change finale where your character does something at the end they can’t at the beginning.
Now that we have that flow nailed down, let’s touch briefly on how to create a powerful Black Moment (Event and Effect!).
- Examine their Greatest Fear to find the acute pressure point.Often, an event like a parent dying isn’t the Darkest Moment. It’s the moment, two months later, at the Father Daughter dance when our heroine doesn’t have a date that this sinks in. Go to that moment and ask your character…why is this your darkest moment? Maybe it’s because he always asked her to dance, and she felt silly, so she turned him down. Or that she spent all year waiting for this dance, and now she had no one. What does this moment tell her about life, herself, God?
Obviously, when you recreate the Greatest Fear, you can’t recreate the actual event. But you could create the pain of that event. Regret. Abandonment. Anger? The key is to create a Black Moment Event that produces the same emotions, the same conclusion. The same LIE.
Think outside the box – turn it over, and take a good look. It’s the not-so-obvious moments that are the most profound.
- Build that fear in from page one. (Hence why you need to know what it is before you start the novel). You should slowly be pushing your character to confront this fear (even if they don’t know it), with every turn of the page.
You know from the first scene that Frodo fears succumbing to the ring, or worse, having his failure destroy the shire. You know that Bourne fears he’ll never be more than an assassin. You know that Richard Kimball fears letting his wife’s killer go free. All these fears are voiced or shown in the early acts of the movie. Give us a hint of that fear, and the tension will build as we draw near it.
- Make the Black Moment Unexpected yet Plausible.
Whatever Black Moment you choose, it must be something that could happen. I watched the latest Indiana Jones movie again this weekend (The Crystal Skull). And, even though I don’t love it as much (although Shai LeBeouf is a great addition) the black moment does work. No, I didn’t like the crystal skulls coming to life to suck out people’s brains through their eyeballs, and then vanish on a spaceship, it was pretty classic Indiana Jones. After all, in previous movies, the Ark came alive and punched out people’s souls, and then there was the melting man who “chose poorly” in the Last Crusade. So, even though I didn’t like the premise the screenwriters DID build up enough plausibility for it to happen. And, let’s admit it – it was sort of unexpected (and creepy!) So, you can get away with crazy out of this world black moments if you build up the plausibility.
- The Black Moment should be strong enough to bring them to their knees and re-evaluate everything they believe in.
This will lead them to the Healing Epiphany. The hero must look back to his mistakes, and see what he did wrong. And only then will he come to some truth that will open a new door to a new future. In other words, deal with them on an emotional spiritual, even VALUES level to make them re-evaluate everything they believe in. One of my favorite movies is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I always cry during the epiphany where Steve Martin realizes that John Candy, his annoying travel partner has lied to him about his life and has no place to go. All Steve Martin’s annoyance is put aside by his gratefulness that he has a family to return home to. His perspective is just in time for the holidays.
Makes sure your Black Moment rends their heart, and their epiphany heals it.
Quick Skills: Construct your Black Moment Ending before you write the first word of your WIP so you understand how to increase the tension on every page of your novel.
Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill, Summerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-time Christy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Contact her at: email@example.com.