November 28, 2011

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Black Moments

Hero Torture and high stakes. I’ve talked about that a lot on this blog. Because, you know, I’m sadistic and I enjoy it.

The alpha hero is a staple of the Presents/Modern line and I think one of the major attractions to these strong heroes is watching them get the rug pulled out from under them.

They arrive on the scene so strong, so confident, so utterly in control. As they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Of course, it’s not just heroes. Heroines need to be broken open too.

I sound mean, and I am.

When you’re writing a romance, the focus is on that central relationshiop. The romance between the hero and heroine. All throughout the story, you’re working on building that relationship.

My first editor, Jenny, talked about it like the ebb and flow of the tide. It made for a very clear picture in my mind. You have the waves coming in and pulling back. The wave comes in, it recedes, but each time you’re gaining ground. And that’s how I’ve come to look at the building relationship between my H and h.

I think as you’re establishing this rhythm, you’re working toward taking it to the Happily Ever After. But before that happens, you need your black moment. (We will not be abbreviating black moment here. Because I have two nurses as CPs and whenever someone writes it as BM I have to listen to them cackle…)

The black moment is that dark point before dawn (the HEA). When it all seems completely lost and hopeless.

Because this is the moment when it’s all on the line. The chips are down. Balls to the wall. Some other cliche. You get the idea.

In a lot of ways, it’s like breaking a bone so that it can heal right. It’s that moment when every last bit of the facade is falling away from both characters. And one or both of them isn’t ready for this to happen.

A revelation has come that they weren’t ready for. Issues are needing to be released that they aren’t ready to let go of. Feelings have surface that they really, really can’t deal with.

An effective black moment goes all out. It cuts to the truth of the issues. It doesn’t mean the characters tell the truth, but the black moment is often the thing that helps them discover the truth. That they’re in love. That they’re afraid. That they really, really can’t live without the other person.

So here is my list for you. Seven Habits of Highly Effective Black Moments:

1. Do not pull your punch. You know what I mean. Your hero is backed in the corner. Everything is about to be lost. He’s clinging to the last shred of his shields, a desperate attempt to save himself from pain but…oh, you don’t want him to say that. That’s mean. Let him. If you have to pull back later, do that. But put it ALL out there, at least at first. This is the black moment, not the misty gray moment.

2. Don’t bring in a random plot device. “And then she went driving in a jeep. No. She has a Jeep. What I didn’t mention her Jeep? She HAS ONE. She went driving in it now she’s in peril and she crashed it and oh the hero has woe!” As a reader, that stuff makes me feel cheated. The black moment should come from the conflict that’s already there. Not something introduced late in the third act*.

3. You must break them. Like Dolph Lundgren, you must. What do they fear the most? Find that, and take them there. Make them face it. If your hero is afraid he isn’t worthy of love, force him to confront that.

4. Make them change their thinking. That’s one reason the black moment is so painful. Your characters have to change, and it’s likely they aren’t ready to yet. Change is hard. Your heroine needs to let go of her control and allow herself to love the hero, but she can’t yet, because she’s too afraid. The black moment will bring about a change in her thinking. It will bring her to the point where she’ll have to draw a new conclusion, or stay where she’s at. Bringing about that real, genuine change in character is what will create a believable HEA, so this is a REALLY important one.

5. It’s the baking soda to your vinegar. Like those volcanos you made in fifth grade science. It takes something that was already there and forces a major reaction to happen. Maybe you’ve been adding pinches of baking soda all along (really, you should have been) and that black moment is when you dump the whole box in and it all goes to HECK. That leads in to…

6. Make sure it needed to happen. If you have a well constructed conflict, the black moment will be a necessity. That moment has to occur to effect change, and change is needed for your h and H to find their HEA. That dark moment should force them to examine themselves, their perceptions and their feelings. It should be an integral part of the story and the conflict.

7. Make the HEA count. You’ve brough them through hell and back. If the black moment was the worst of their relationship, of the characters, the Happily Ever After had better be the best of them. The black moment happened before they were ready to let go and find love, and now they have it!! So give us real, believable happy with the characters we know and love. Not with perfect happy clones, but with our h and H, who came through all those trials to find love with each other.

Now…go forth and break those characters, people.

*again, it’s all in the execution. So consider this a gross generalization. I’m certain there are exceptions. There always are.


9 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Hi, Maisey. I found this post very interesting and helpful. Thanks.

  2. *bookmarks post for later date. I have the luxury of being on page one of my WIP, but I’ll definitely need this as I approach the end. Thanks Maisey 😉

  3. Great advice as always Maisey. I like the analogy of the ebb and flow of the tide. Very visual. Caroline x

  4. Fabulous advice, Maisey!

    I always tend to be too nice to my characters. Of course, in Supers we don’t need to break our characters quite as thoroughly as Presents, but they still have to be forced to learn and grow before they get to the point where they can totally commit to this love, whether they want to change or not.

    Maybe they do need to be broken, those self-protective walls they put around their emotions have to be removed, one way or another. It can be with a smash, or with the slow subtle water on stone wearing away (usually with the character grabbing more stones to try to rebuild that dam before any real emotion leaks through). But yes, there still needs to be that moment when the pressure builds so much that the wall cracks and the emotions come out.

    Hmm, that helps me see how it needs to be for my characters.

  5. […] thinking about this today because one of my CP’s, Maisey, did a marvellous post on Black Moments. It’s good. Read […]

  6. Thank you, Johanna!

    Chelsea, I’ll be there to help you break their knees. It’s my favorite part!

    thank you, Caroline! Always hope my rambling helps!

    Autumn, glad to help! Yeah, we do break them rather dramatically in Presents…don’t we?

  7. Wonderful post! Definitely something I will keep in mind. 🙂

  8. I LOVE THIS. LOVE IT. And, I can say for sure, the MS I just finished was in dire need of #7. I broke. I tortured. I dragged out the the tension. And then phoned in the HEA. Why? I think b/c it’s not my fave part of a book. Funny, right??? I love the tension, the build, the black moment that makes me cry…the ending. Meh. I rewrote that ending, and it SO needed it.

    I am now bookmarking this page under “Things I Need to Learn From People Smarter Than Me.”

  9. Maisey, this is incredibly useful and insightful information. I’m trying to figure out my black moment in a story and I thought this post would help. It does immensely. I just still have a lot of thinking to do!

    Abbi 🙂

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