One of the many elements that make up a romance novel is a black moment. Simply put, the black moment is a point in a novel, near the end, where the love interests are torn apart with no immediate signs of reconciliation. A black moment can make or break a romance novel. It fills the reader with an emotional high, the need to keep reading as fast as possible to get the main characters together again.
My early novels suck at black moments. This is one of the many areas I have learned a ton from in the past few years. The black moment is very much related to the emotional journey of the characters. External forces can trigger but it’s the internal weak spots that are utilized.
Romance writers need to juggle the external and internal plots. Internal is harder to see, harder put a pulse point on. It can be vague, or hidden. It can also be overdone and beat the reader on the head too often. A juggle that when done correctly, make the black moment even better.
Once upon a time I received an R&R (Revise and Resubmit) with a lot of focus on the internal plot and the ending black moment. I ate up the advice, reading it over and over again, eager to shape up my novel. I did, and sub-sequentially used that advice for many other novels.
My black moments grew better. But certain things can be made stronger. I just finished chopping up another black moment, based on some excellent advice that triggered a “what if” moment that my characters hate me for. Let me back up a bit: I love HEA, I love seeing my characters in happy places. My early novels were complete with desperate moments to get them together as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Not anymore. Since starting to write NA, I have embraced the torture. A true writer, torturing characters fuels a giddy feeling inside. My poor, poor characters. So in this latest black moment revision, the triggered idea pushed both characters into a dark place.
I may have clapped in glee. Then I worked through other parts of my novel and wanted to cry at what my characters were now going to be forced through. The set up was there, the failure level huge. The characters high enough that the emotional drop intense. And they were happy to voice their displeasure at the new ending.
But, here’s the thing about black moments: it makes the ending so much better. If the love interests are happy all along, there’s no rise and fall. They haven’t overcome anything to be together, haven’t tested their relationship. Tortured love interests leave the reader desperate for them to get together and stay together. It makes the emotional ending greater and leaves the reader clutching onto the book in hangover mode. At least, it leaves me in this state!
A black moment is routed in the internal and external arcs of the novel. What does each have to lose by venturing into the relationship? Make the loss big and then throw them under the bus. It’s easy here to get cliché. Stick to what makes your characters unique. There are elements in romances that will be tried and true again and again. It’s not what happens, but how it happens.
Create characters with a lot to lose and exploit those areas in the black moment. If your moment currently isn’t black enough, build upon what you’ve already set up. Or switch things around and throw something else at them. For me, my latest alteration involved pushing a goal out of reach from one character. Instead of that character being able to reach the solution, she stumbled down. A more realistic reaction if you ask me, though both characters did hate the initial result.
That’s life. It’s not tidy and neat. It’s messy and dark. In a romance there’s that sliver of hope as the couple reaches the end together, all the stronger for the obstacles they’ve overcome.