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/

Blog Tour for Charles F. French and His New Release, Gallows Hill, A Review

Gallows Hill, by author, Charles F. French, is the second book in his series, The Investigative Paranormal Society.  Within this taunt, terrifying, page-turner, we find Roosevelt, Jeremy, Helen, and Sam continuing to pursue ghostly evil and new revelations about a heart-breaking past event, that complicates an already murderous ghost assignment that the IPS needs to vanquish before more innocent lives are lost.

Adding to the taunt, terrifying ghost encounter, is a back-story vendetta out to destroy Sam, a retired police detective, and anyone else in proximity to Sam.  Beyond the uniquely horrific ghost mystery, is a heart-breaking love story, as well as a long-lost love rediscovered, that adds to the emotional complexity that drives this story forward.

The character development within this ghostly horror novel is superb and adds to a narrative that is taunt with tension and suspense. The dialogue is not shy and gives a realistic representation of language, idioms, and images within the back-story to the present day, that reflects the different characters’ prerogatives and state of mind. The physical environment presented in this horror novel, is tangible, adding to the realism, terror, and fear in Gallows Hill.

Anyone who loves, not only a terrific horror story, but also one that is expertly written with a strong human story, heartbreak, and a love story, wrapped up in terror and courage to face what could be a death sentence, this story is for you. Don’t miss out on reading Gallows Hill, you won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend this intriguing horror novel. I give it 5 stars!

*****5 stars*****

Interview with Writer and Author, Charles F. French, Part 2

 

 

 

 

Good day to you Professor Charles F. French!  Thank you  for taking time, in your busy schedule, between teaching literature at two universities in eastern Pennsylvania and writing great horror novels! I just read your latest horror novel,  Gallows Hill, and it is a blockbuster of a horror novel!  I am very interested in discovering more about why reading, writing, and teaching is the love of your life.  Thank you for answering the following questions.  I know your readers are as anxious to know all about you as I am.

1.  How do you get your ideas for writing books, such as Maledicus, your first published book, but not the only novel you have written?

This may sound odd, and I do not know what it says about either me or the creative process, but I see characters and wonder what their stories are. I begin to think about them, and I jot down my ideas. And I never seem to run out of ideas.

2.  Do you feel that novels should have a moral dilemma that must be addressed?

I do not think that all novels should have a moral dilemma in them—that must be up to the author to decide, but I can say that in my novels, I always have at least one, if not more, moral dilemmas that the characters face in the course of the action.

3.  Do you research your story before you begin to write a novel?

I do not have a set pattern when it comes to research for my novels. I usually do the research as I come across something I do not know for the books. Then I attack the research to learn as much as I can about it. Because I never outline a book, I cannot be sure what it is I will need to learn until I reach that point. I am not suggesting that anyone else should follow my way of research, only that it is what I do. Each writer must find his/her own paths.

4.  In your latest novel, Gallows Hill what single idea inspired you to write this story?

Its origin is found in the first book in this series: Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, book 1. The three men who create the ghost-investigation group all have lost someone very close to them to death. The first book focused on Roosevelt, and this one focuses on Sam, who lost his teenaged son, Josh to suicide. Sam carries deep grief with him, and the book is about his search to find answers about his son’s death. So, the theme of the past intruding on the present also informs the creation of the supernatural villain of the book, a former executioner/fundamentalist preacher who just cannot seem to let go of his need to punish those he considers to be sinners.

5.  Are you presently writing another novel and can you give us an idea of what it is about and why did you chose this subject matter?

Yes, I have written the first of a Young Adult series that I am currently pitching to agents, and I hope that I can break through into traditional publishing with it. It is an environmental post-apocalyptic novel, informed by the middle ages. I am also working on the first draft of the first book in a fantasy series that I thought would be midgrade but now I realize is adult fantasy. The themes of the evils of the world and how they intrude through fantastic events into the lives of several youngsters is too powerful, vivid, and horrific to be anything but adult fantasy.

6.  I have been told you that have also written another novel that has not yet been published. What is the name of this novel and when will it be published?

The name of the next book in the paranormal investigation series is Evil Lives After: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 3, and it will come out around Halloween in 2019.

7. Is there anything else that you would like to add to this discussion?

First, thank you to K. D. Dowdall for conducting this interview with me. Second, I want to say to all writers out there: continue to do what you do, and never lose hope or dedication to your craft and your art.

 

 

An Interview with Charles F. French, Writer and Author, Part 1

 

 

 

 

Good day to you Professor Charles F. French!  Thank you for taking time in your busy schedule, between teaching literature at two universities in eastern Pennsylvania and writing great horror novels! I just read your latest horror novel,  Gallows Hill, and it is a blockbuster of a horror novel!  I am very interested in discovering more about why reading, writing, and teaching is the love of your life.  Thank you for answering the following questions.  I know your readers are as anxious  to know all about you as I am.

  1. How old were you when you started reading books?

I was three years old I believe. I know I cannot remember not being able to read, and I know that my mom always read to me from a very young age.

  1. What kind of books, when you were a child, interested you the most?

I loved reading any kind of adventure, fantasy, or science-fiction the most. By the time I was in elementary school, I remember reading the Tarzan series and several of the Jules Verne novels such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

  1. What is the name of your favorite book when you were a teenager?

This is a more difficult question to narrow down to one at that time, but if I had to choose one, it was Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse, a novel about two friends of different backgrounds and interests and how their lives intertwined. When I was a teenager, exploration of mysticism and spirituality, both issues in this novel, were a part of many people’s lives.

  1. What was it that made you interested in writing books about horror stories?

I have enjoyed horror novels and movies since I was young. I read both Frankenstein and Dracula as a young teenager, and I always enjoyed the Universal Studios horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. As I grew, I came to understand that horror in novels is often a metaphor for the true horror of the world. I do not see it as a way to escape reality, although reading is very useful to do that and it is fun, but as a prism or lens through which light can be focused on very real problems in life. Does that make sense?  So, I have tried both to tell interesting stories in my writing but also to explore important problems in the world in them.

  1. What made you want to be a professor of literature?

I originally wanted to be an actor. Theater was my first love in terms of profession, but I soon found out that I was not good enough to stand out from the others and unlikely to make a living from it. I also did not want to spend at least 20 years trying to make it as an actor. My whole life story is one of following unusual paths, but without going into great detail, I will say that I had dropped out of college, then after working as a steel-worker for several years, wanted to go back to school. I did return to college while working full-time as a janitor. I earned my degree as an adult student, and I realized then that I had both a talent and a passion for teaching, so my course was set.

  1. Why do you think it is important to spend a great deal of your time mentoring?

I have had the good fortune in my life to have had several professors go out of their ways to help me when I needed it the most. As I have become older, I realized that not only do I have much to pass along as a teacher of literature, but also I can offer whatever knowledge I have to younger people, including adult students, about life, books, and writing. I hope I do not sound full of myself in this answer.

Tuesday, February 27 – Part 2 of my Interview with Charles F. French, Writer and Author!

*****NEW RELEASE LIVE ON AMAZON NOW!****** 

Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering

 

 

 

3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes.  (this is a re-blogging from 2014 but I thought it deserved a revival now, because it is simple, straightforward, and to the point.)

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.  As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.  

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable. In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story. The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Secret #3: 

IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.  

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation. As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

IN CONCLUSION

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

A Review: THE GENIE HUNT by author, M. C. Tuggle

A new novel, by M. C. Tuggle, The Genie Hunt, is so engaging that I could not put it down. I continued reading it until the end, without stopping.  It is not often that I want to reread a novel that I just finished reading. It is that good.  It is a rather unique story about a lawyer, a reformed law-breaker, a kidnapped Genie, and a crime. It is a story about a friendship under duress, life-threatening danger, and a who-done-it mystery. The writing is superb, smooth transitions through scenes, characters that are so real that I was sure I knew them. It was the great dialogue, however, that moved the story along, including, strong pacing and time elements, that rang true.

As the investigation drew closer and closer to the perpetrators of the crime, the action grew and so did the breath-taking danger. And, oh yes, there is a real Genie with a complex set of circumstances.  The main characters, Coot Pickard, and his lawyer friend, Buddy Vuncannon, have been friends since childhood. However, they are total opposites in personality and lifestyle. It is often said, that in relationships, opposites do attract and in this case, it adds to the interesting complexity of the characters. I found this story to also be about a well thought out ode to the wonder of friendship under great duress, because the evidence clearly points to Coot Pickard.  But, as is often said, “the devil is in the details” and in this story, it is certainly true.  The ending is very satisfying and since this novel is book 1, in a new series entitled, Spook Hunters, by author, M. C. Tuggle, I look forward with great anticipation to book 2 of the Spook Hunters. I highly recommend this intriguing story!  5 stars!

Search for Maylee – A Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quoting the author of Search for Maylee, “It’s a cold dark world we live in, and Autumn is about to find out just how cruel it can be. Strength and determination are on Autumn’s side and she will do whatever it takes.”

Autumn, no stranger to grief and lost, is inconsolable when Maylee, her much loved niece is abducted a month before her high school graduation. Autumn has not given up hope of finding her – alive. She believes and is frustrated by what she sees as the detective in charge of Maylee’s case doing next to nothing to find Maylee.

Finally, Autumn decides to take matters into her own hands and gathers a strength within herself to search for Maylee – by herself, alone. She even moves across the country to find the man that abducted Maylee and to get Maylee back from him.

This fictional story is exceptionally well written, ominous, compelling, riveting, and portends the truth of what often happens to abducted young women. The same young women that we so often see in Newscasts, Internet, and in local newspapers, with pleas from family and friends to help find their loved one.

These abductions often cross our visual paths, but then, it is as quickly forgotten. But, what we don’t know, is that it is much worse than we ever thought possible. I highly recommend this spell-binding story, Search for Maylee.