Do Black Moments Need to Be Catastrophes in Your Novel?

Can a Story Still Be Compelling with a “Quiet” Black Moment?

Ruined structure in desolate landscape with text: Do Black Moments Need to Be Catastrophes?

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, worked with beat sheets, or studied story structure, you’re probably familiar with the idea of a Black Moment turning point around the 75-80% mark of our story. If not, Black Moment is an event in our story that steals the protagonist’s hope for a solution by Jamie Gold at:  https://jamigold.com/blog/

A story’s Black Moment (also called the Second (or Third) Plot Point, Crisis, or “All Is Lost” point, depending on the story structure system) is usually one of the most emotional sections of a story, as our heroes despair and give up. We can probably all think of several examples of Black Moments in books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen.

Is our story doomed if it doesn’t have a big Black Moment?CLICK TO TWEETHowever, not all Black Moments fit into a single style. Many Black Moments that stick with us are “loud,” and that can make writers with “quiet” Black Moments in their stories despair.

Are they doing something wrong? Should they completely change their plot to create a more catastrophic crisis point?

Let’s take a closer look at this turning point and at how we can make either style of Black Moment work for our readers

What Are Black Moment Events?

As I shared in my guest post about translating story beats to any genre, in a romance, the Black Moment is often the “boy loses girl” plot point. They lose trust in each other and/or the potential of the relationship and break up, have a big fight, expose lies, etc.

In my Mythos Legacy novels, the Black Moments are fairly “loud,” as they include betrayals, abandonments, kidnappings, soul-crushing shame, etc. It seems like the couple can’t reach their Happily Ever After.

In other genres, an event similarly makes the protagonist give up or fear they can’t win:

  • Mysteries: the protagonist is kicked off the case, the next victim in the murderer’s sights is friend/family, etc.
  • Thrillers: the protagonist loses the trail, the villain has acquired all the weapon’s pieces, etc.

Style #1: “Loud” Black Moments

As in the examples above, the Black Moments that stick with us tend to be catastrophic. Maybe the antagonist is bigger, stronger, or more pervasive than the protagonist thought. Maybe the protagonist has been betrayed. Or maybe they just lost their mentor.

We might even say the protagonist symbolically “dies,” as they’re stripped of their hopes, goals, or plans. The characters will seem further from their destination (goals) than ever, and in many cases, readers shouldn’t see a solution either.

Style #2: “Quiet” Black Moments

Yet not every type of story includes a catastrophe. For example, some stories are more about a character’s emotional journey than critical plot events. Stories in the romance genre might not include a break-up scene or other type of major loss.

No matter the genre, protagonists doubt their ability to succeed, but escape any devastating obstacles. They simply lose hope in potential—potential of a relationship, success, teaching humanity to be better, etc.

In fact, these Black Moments can be so “quiet” that they’re hard to identify. As readers, we might not notice. As writers, however, we might be concerned that our story is “broken.”

Making Our Black Moment Work for Our Story

Guideline #1: Tell the Story We Want to Tell

The worst thing we can do is try to force the wrong style of Black Moment into our story. If a horrible catastrophe doesn’t fit our story, we shouldn’t try to shoehorn one in just because that’s what we’ve heard about Black Moments.

Just as every story has different tones or moods, our story has a unique style that includes the type of conflicts, obstacles, and stakes our characters face. Some stories’ styles go big, with life-and-death stakes and “loud” Black Moments, and some stories don’t.

Bigger doesn’t equal better. The two styles are simply different.

Guideline #2: Fulfill the Story Purpose of the Black Moment

A Black Moment triggers the protagonist to lose hope, but what that looks like can be very different depending on the style of our turning point. Essentially, we need an event that forces the protagonist to leave some aspect of their old life behind, kicking off the change necessary for the story ending.

Story Purpose for “Loud” Black Moments

  • In plot-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist’s plans for success literally impossible, and they reach a dead end.
  • In character-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment emotionally breaks the protagonist, and whatever progress they’ve made along their internal arc now seems like a mistake.

Whatever happens (and however those two types of focuses are combined), the protagonist is so devastated that they give up despite the consequences. Those stakes that have been carrying them through the rest of the story aren’t enough to force them through this defeat. They give up.

Understandably, these “loud” Black Moments typically require pages or even a whole scene or two to explore, as the catastrophe (a break up, betrayal, death, monster escapes capture, etc.) occurs on the page. The fallout from that event can take even more pages or scenes, as the protagonist deals with the depression, loss of hope, plot consequences of giving up, etc. that results.

Story Purpose for “Quiet” Black Moments

  • In plot-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist struggle with a sense of defeat, and they’re unable to see how to reach their goals.
  • In character-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist worry that they’re not up to the task, and they feel like their efforts have been a waste of time.

Whatever happens, the protagonist doubts their ability to succeed and at least fleetingly thinks that they should just give up because it’s hopeless. The plans they have for how to move forward are obviously not going to work, and now they feel incapable of figuring out a Plan B.

Not surprisingly, these “quiet” Black Moments require far fewer pages to explore. The trigger for their doubt might be only a paragraph or a page or two, and the fallout from that trigger—as they struggle with feeling like a failure—might be only a few paragraphs or pages before they rally and vow to change their approach and redouble their efforts.

Guideline #3: Fulfill the Reader Purpose of the Black Moment

The turning points in our stories aren’t just there for storytelling purposes, kicking off the next section of the story. Story structure has a reader purpose as well.

The reader purpose of the Black Moment is to make readers more emotionally invested in the story.

  • For “loud” Black Moments, the outcome of the story should be in doubt, as it looks like we’ve written ourselves into a corner. Readers want the emotional twist as their hopes are dashed (to be later reignited).
  • For “quiet” Black Moments, readers must believe that the protagonist feels the outcome of the story is in doubt. Readers might know that things aren’t as bad as the characters think (maybe there’s just a miscommunication, etc.), but they empathize with the protagonist’s worries that they’re not up to the task.

For example, in a romance without a catastrophic “boy loses girl” scene, the Black Moment may simply be another step of the couple’s romantic journey into a relationship. In those types of stories, readers might never question whether a couple will make it due to a catastrophe, but one or both partners will struggle with the idea of couple-dom.

Guideline #4: Take a Lesson from “Quiet” Stakes

Stakes are the consequences of failure, and Black Moments show our characters’ biggest failure. So learning how to strengthen “quiet” stakes might help us strengthen our “quiet” Black Moment as well.

Here are 7 ways to make even “quiet” Black Moments work for our story…CLICK TO TWEETBig stakes—even “blow up the Earth” big—are meaningless to readers unless they’re given a reason to care. We could read about the entire Milky Way galaxy succumbing to a black hole in a story and not feel a thing.

In other words, stakes aren’t about the size of the destruction. Similarly, Black Moments aren’t about the size of the catastrophe.

Instead, the more readers care, the more they’ll want to witness the protagonist’s reactions to the Black Moment and see how they rally after their despair. To make readers care, the Black Moment must matter personally to our protagonist, and we need to show the emotional fallout of their loss of hope.

Guideline #5: Show the Protagonist’s Vulnerability

With either style of Black Moment, the protagonist’s wounds, flaws, and false beliefs should be fully on the page, contributing to their self-image of failure.

In a romance, a character might:

  • debate whether the relationship is worth it,
  • struggle with opening themselves up to be vulnerable (knowing the relationship would be at a dead end if they don’t),
  • fear that nothing will come from their efforts,
  • believe whatever they do is never enough, etc.

We just need to give a sense of a dead end for at least a few paragraphs to build enough bare bones of a Black Moment to fulfill the function.

Guideline #6: Show the Effects of the Black Moment

No matter the style of our Black Moment, our story needs the context for the effectof the trigger on the page so readers know how to feel. If our characters don’t seem to care or react to a Black Moment, the required turning point does not exist, no matter how “loud.”

What makes any Black Moment work—but is especially important to emphasize and bring out of the subtext in a “quiet” one—is for the protagonist to believe they’ve failed or can’t measure up. It’s not about convincing readers that our protagonist has failed in any way, but about our protagonist thinking they’ve failed. Readers will go along with their feelings.

Guideline #7: Ensure a Point of No Return

The Black Moment is one of the four major turning points of our story. As a major turning point, the trigger must create a point of no return.

  • In plot-focused stories, the old plans to deal with the story problem will neverwork, and the characters have to change their approach.
  • In character-focused stories, the protagonist has to face all their worries, fears, false beliefs, etc. driving their sense of failure, and they’ll never again be able to pretend those thoughts and feelings don’t exist.

To read more of Jamie Gold’s post go to: https://jamigold.com/blog/

“The Scream”, Round 2

Jennie is an incredible teacher. She gives her young students the opportunity for self-expression with music, art, and reading out loud. They feel free to express themselves artistically. They never have to feel self-doubt in Jennie’s caring environment and she encourages their self-expressive with love.

visit Jennie’s blog at https://jenniefitzkee.com/2018/04/02/the-scream-round-2

A Teacher's Reflections

Alex liked his painting of “The Scream.”  He called it “The Yeller Who Was Lost”, because he couldn’t remember scream, and he knew the painting had been lost.  Actually, Alex liked the original art by Edvard Munch far more than what he had painted.

I knew it.  While he patiently and passionately worked with small brushes and watercolors from a tube, they weren’t the right tools for what he wanted to paint.  Last week I saw Alex using markers and making orange swirls across the top of the page.  That was a red flag- he still needed to paint this again, his way.

Today I gave Alex big paper, and the right paints and brushes.  He was thrilled!  I also introduced Mozart at Morning Meeting on the record player.  As I played the album, I slowly panned pictures of art for the children.  No words.  Just listening to music and…

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Interview with the Professor — of Horror!

The storyline for this novel is unique and so are the characters. I love the very interesting questions that you asked Professor French! It is so revealing to know why a writer writes and the process. Thank P J Lazos and visit her blog at:   https://greenlifebluewater.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/interview-with-the-professor-of-horror/

Green Life Blue Water

Interview with the Professor — of Horror!

Today’s guest is Professor Charles F. French.  Professor French lives in northeastern, PA in the US of A.  Trained in English Literature, he writes speculative fiction for fun and as a break from grading all those papers.  He has two novels out now:  Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 1, and Gallows Hill: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 2, through an Indie publisher.  He’s been a raconteur for so long he was probably born telling a story, and reading under a tree in the summer is one of his favorite childhood memories.  While each of  his novels has its own message and readers can draw their own conclusions, a consistent theme is predominant throughout Professor French’s writing:  that ordinary people must oppose evil, bullying, and oppression of all kinds.  A lofty goal!

Synopsis for Gallows Hill

Gallows Hill follows the adventures of…

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Blog Tour – Gallows Hill: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book 2

I was fortunate to be a Beta Reader and I liked it so much that I purchased it on Amazon to read again and keep in my library. View original on https://mctuggle.com/2018/03/30/blog-tour-gallows-hill-the-investigative-paranormal-society-book-2/#like-3746

A Teacher's Reflections

I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Charles French, a distinguished educator and author.  His new book, Gallows Hill, is a thriller and the second in his exciting series.  The first book, Maledicus, is a riveting page-turner deep into history and speculative fiction, that follows paranormal investigating by three main characters.  Frankly, that barely scratches the surface of mystery and darkness.  Without further ado, let’s meet the author:

I know you are partial to classical literature, particularly Shakespeare.  And, you teach English Literature courses at Muhlenberg College.  How has that influenced you and your writing?

I have loved Shakespeare most of my life. I was first entranced by his work as a high school student, when I saw a traveling professional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was amazed not only by the language but also by the physicality of the play and the images of…

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Childhood fantasy

Sue Vincent writes to the heart of fairy tales that adults today love to read and I am one of them. Like Tolkien said, ““Fantasy does not obscure, but illuminates the inner nature of reality.” https://scvincent.com/2018/03/15/childhood-fantasy-2

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

cslewis writing for children

He’s right… by the time you reach an age with double figures, fairy stories are for babies… and you are no longer a babe. In just the same way that we cease admitting to the guilty affection for the music our parents liked as we grew, so do the books of early childhood get left upon the shelf… at least when anyone is looking.

We ‘progress’ to more complicated reading. Quite often the books we read as teenagers say more about how we would like to be percieved by the world, or reflect the adventures or romance that we long for at that age. Most of those stories, too, are as wildly fantastical as the fairy tales… but being set in ‘reality’, they are more acceptable to our fledgling egos.

Those who loved fairy tales may be lucky, making the early discovery of fantasy and science fiction… which may simply…

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Control The Pace (Revised)

Writing your first novel-Things you should know

controllingthepaceinyournovelPeople who love to read but have never written books are cognizant of the pacing. Pacing sets the tempo of your story. Is it a fast read, or did it seem to drag on for days? Hopefully you’ve found a balance between the two, and they perform like a fine tuned orchestra.

I have read many good books, and yes, skimmed paragraphs, because I was tired of reading about the duchess’s frilly dress or  inner hull of a slave ship. I’m glad the authors did their homework and provided historical information, but sometimes it can be a bit much and totally bog down your story. I have read other books that were nonstop action that left me wanting; they were missing the details that made the story real and the characters endearing.

So how do you control the pacing of your story? Be cognizant of the tempo and your audience. You have to strike a balance between the…

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