Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fiona Harper on writing: The Big Black Moment


Today, Fiona talks about one of the crucial stages of a romance novel – the Black Moment. Without this dark time in the relationship the Happy Ever After won’t seem quite so sweet, but how do you give it the emotional punch it needs?

I have to say that the Black Moment is one of my favourite bits to write in a romance. Now, this might make me evil, or it might just be because I know that the ordeal my characters suffer now is their final test before they get what they desire. No pain, no gain, right?

We all have different ways of talking about story structure - none are right, none are wrong. It's just different ways of labeling the same things. But, to be clear about what I mean, I call the Black Moment the setback that comes at the end of Act Two. It’s the turning point that sends things spinning out of control into Act Three. It’s also the moment your characters believe that their goal will be forever out of their reach. If, as Robert McKee says, true character is revealed under pressure, this is where we discover  just how much our hero and heroine have learned and how far they have to go.

Breaking up is hard to do
In a romance, even if it wasn’t this way at the start of the story, your hero and heroine’s goal at this point is to be with each other. So how does this perceived ‘failure’ at the end of Act Two present itself? Often as a break up. This is the time when they will believe the conflict between them will never be solved. Even if they are together still at this point, often one character will often believe they will have to settle for less than true love from the other.

There are many ways to pull your hero and heroine apart before they finally get back together, but if you rely on the INTERNAL conflict that you’ve already set up, you will have the most emotional bang for your buck. EXTERNAL conflict will only cut your characters so deep. Having a misunderstanding that separates the hero and heroine, or an old flame who seems to come between them, will add a certain amount of drama, but if you really want to have tears springing from your readers eyes you need to go below the surface.

Fears and flaws
So how do you go deeper? You use those fears and flaws that have already been driving your hero and heroine from the beginning of the story. (You didn’t think those things were just in there for decoration, did you?)

What does your hero/heroine fear the most? The answer to that question will be linked to their internal goal. For example, in my upcoming book Snowbound in the Earl’s Castle, my heroine Faith is desperate to belong somewhere. What is her greatest fear? That she’ll find out that, once again, she doesn’t belong in the place she loves or with the people she loves.

The last section of the story we looked at was Complications and Higher Stakes. The conflict has been building and building for your characters, the stakes ever increasing, and as the going gets tough, the temptation to revert to those unhelpful coping mechanisms (flaws) they relied on the first part of the book often becomes irresistible. This is their greatest test of their character growth. If they can pass this one (or fail and then swiftly learn from it) then they’ll be on the way to achieving their heart’s desire.

Faith’s way of dealing with her fear of not fitting in is to keep everyone at a distance. If she had a motto it would be “don’t get involved”. This keeps her from getting hurt again, but it also stops her connecting enough with anyone to ever feel that she fits in. So, when she finally falls in love and desperately wants to believe she belongs with the hero, what does she do? That’s right, she panics – and she pushes him away. She’s relying on that thing that kept her emotionally numb all these years.

The flaw of at least one of your characters usually makes the Black Moment an act of self-sabotage. Faith’s refusal to believe she can truly belong in the hero’s world leads him to saying the thing she fears most. Marcus needs (and deserves) a woman who will stand by him, not someone who has one foot in, one foot out, just in case it all goes wrong. And when he realises Faith will never let herself belong to anyone, he tells he that until she’s ready to commit to him fully that, no, she doesn’t belong with him.

Ouch.

Faith wounds Marcus by not having (funnily enough) the faith to believe in him, and Marcus ends up wounding Faith right back.

Ding, ding! End of round. Time for them to retreat to their corners and work out what to do next.  Because they’re not going to leave it there. The emotional journey they’ve been on has changed them and they just need time to figure out how to put the pieces together and move forward. But more on that next month…


Fiona’s latest release Snowbound in the Earl’s Castle is the first in the Holiday Miracles trilogy with Donna Alward and Shirley Jump. Three sisters get three letters, each asking them to do a favour for their beloved Grandmother. Little do they know one simple letter will change everything – what they believe about life, family and definitely love.

Available in the US (eHarlequin and Amazon) and in the UK you can get all three stories in one volume, entitled A Christmas Letter.

Forthright Faith McKinnon is driving English aristocrat Marcus Huntington crazy! Ever since she turned up at his castle to research a valuable stained-glass window, Marcus can't stop thinking about her. Faith might try to hide her true self behind a facade of feistiness, yet to Marcus she's as transparent as the glass she studies. What's more, the vulnerable woman in hiding is frighteningly appealing.

Marcus and Faith don't believe in fairy tales, but being snowed in together over Christmas feels like magic. And the best gift of all would be discovering that happy-ever-afters really can come true….

3 comments:

  1. Fiona, your posts on writing are so awesome. You explain things so much better than I do. And it also got me thinking about my current wip and what I need to do to turn those emotional screws.

    You rock, kid.

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  2. Yay! Glad I could help. The Black Moment is my fave bit of the book to write. Once I know what my characters' internal conflicts are I start scheming of ways to make it hit them where it hurts during the black moment. I'm so evil...lol

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