Thursday, March 13, 2014

Critical Plot Elements - INTERLUDE - The Black Moment

Like the inciting incident, this black moment is unlikely to be the only black moment in a novel plot. But this moment should be the black moment - the portion of the story that takes your protagonist to the darkest place in your pages.

I marked this post 'interlude' because there's a range of philosophies on where and when the black moment should occur.  But as long as you've got one just before, or during the climactic events, you'll be fine.  Tune in to the Plot W Round Up post at the end of this series if you're uncertain where your climactic events begin.

What is 'The Black Moment'?

In short, the black moment is a perfect storm of emotional despair, circumstantial defeat or discouragement, and personal crisis.  When the black moment occurs, it should plunge your protagonist to the bottom of the barrel emotionally - and make it appear to the reader that their story just couldn't get worse.

The black moment IS an emotional, internal crisis.

The black moment ISN'T a series of events or circumstances (though events or circumstances may trigger a black moment).

The black moment ISN'T NECESSARILY the point in your climactic events during which the protagonist appears to have been defeated.  (As noted earlier, there are a plethora of options for how and when to engage the black moment and the bottom of the climactic roller coaster is only one of them).

EXAMPLE OF A BLACK MOMENT NEAR THE END OF THE BOOK - ***SPOILER ALERT***: In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver when Grace has infected Sam with the meningacoccal virus and believe's he's dead.  (Though, in my opinion, Ms. Stiefvater didn't make full use of the intensity available to her).

EXAMPLE OF A BLACK MOMENT PRIOR TO THE CLIMACTIC EVENTS: In Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, after Ron and Harry fought and Ron left.  Harry and Hermione hit bottom emotionally for a while and wonder if they're ever going to figure this thing out.

EXAMPLE OF A BLACK MOMENT EARLY IN THE BOOK: In Stephanie Meyer's New Moon, Edward leaves Bella and she takes the emtional plunge just a few chapters in.  Love her or hate her, Ms. Meyer has (in my opinion) achieved something rare in her choice to combine the black moment and the inciting incident.  Bella's emotional hole drives the entire novel from that point forward.  Her climb out of despair literally lasts through to the final pages. 

I'm sure you get the picture by now, but if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments.

The most important aspect of the black moment isn't its location, but the reader's awareness of (and empathy for) the protagonist's emotional darkness.  Every book needs a moment that tears the reader apart because they just want the person they're rooting for to get a break.  If your book doesn't have it, you're going to have a hard time selling it.

Next Post: The Beginning of the End - Crisis!

Your Turn: Can you think of an example of a really impactful or harrowing black moment? What about it made you want to keep reading?


  1. Ah, I always have trouble focusing my attention on THE black moment. My plots are so dense, I struggle to make all the elements point to a single, deep moment of emotional turmoil. But I suppose I'll get it right eventually.

    As for other books, I recall several that made me want to keep reading. (SPOILERS) For example, In Unwind (by Neal Shusterman), near the end of the novel, the characters end up getting captured and sent to the facility where they'll be "unwound." After everything they've been through to escape this fate, this moment in the story just screams of hopelessness. But what kept me reading there wasn't that hopelessness (I knew they would escape), rather it was my curiosity in finding out just how they did it, just how they motivated themselves to keep going.

    I find the best points of a novel to be the ones with the most intense emotions combined with the most (relatively) dangerous circumstances. In other words, I read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi drama.

    - Nick

  2. Oh yes, the black moment. I'm happy to say my manuscript has one of these - phew! :-)