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Give me a black moment

BrokenHeartI’ve noticed a distinct lack of gut-wrenching black moments in several of the books (by major authors) I’ve read recently, and it’s bothering me. I hope it’s not a trend.

What is the black moment you ask? It’s that all-is-lost moment in the story just before the final act begins. It’s  the absolute worst thing that can happen to the main character, and if done well, it should break the reader’s heart. They shouldn’t be able to imagine a way out of it, yet it should set up the final act and the satisfying resolution.

For some examples, let’s turn to movies (spoiler alert!).

– In Avatar, the black moment is when the humans attack and destroy the Na’vi village. Our hero, Jake, has lost the fight, lost the girl and his place with her people, and lost his chance at walking again.

– In The Hunger Games, it’s when Rue dies.

– In Star Wars, the black moment happens when Obi Wan Kenobi lets Darth Vader kill him.

– In Toy Story, it’s when the van drives away with Andy and his family and leaves Buzz and Woody behind.

Okay, enough examples. The thing is, if the black moment isn’t devastating enough—or is hinted at but never actually happens—I feel cheated. The happy ending/resolution isn’t nearly as satisfying if the main character(s) in whom we’re emotionally invested, don’t have to work for it.

Or put another way, the ending is exponentially more gratifying when they do have to work for it. The black moment forces them to reevaluate everything. Their goals, and their perceptions of themselves and the world. It’s the catalyst for change. It forces the character to arc.

Imagine if Rocky had just clobbered Drago (the Russian) easily at the end of Rocky IV. BORING! Wouldn’t you be angry? Don’t you want some excitement? Don’t you want to feel like he just might lose, and be biting your nails on the edge of your seat, wondering if he can pull it off? Don’t you want him to dig deep to find some inner strength and purpose that he hadn’t yet discovered within himself?

Make the lovers part ways over an issue that seems irreconcilable before they get their happily ever ever. Force the sleuth to face a dead end before he solves the mystery. Have the spy fail, get pulled from the case, and lose her job before she finally stops the evil terrorists.

The stronger the black moment, the more emotionally satisfying the resolution is.

Go ahead, authors, torture me. Break my heart. I’ll love you even more for it.

Image credit: By Corazón.svg: User:Fibonacci derivative work: InverseHypercube (Corazón.svg) CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Reply

    I’ve not noticed that trend in the books I’ve been reading. But I read PRESENTS, Jill Shalvis is on deck, and of course the Indulgence line at Entangled. Tons of angst in those books. And the Black Moments are definitely strong.

    • Reply

      Hey, Christine! Most of my favorite authors still have it, but I’ve read a few lately that really disappointed in that regard, even though I loved them in every other way. The end just came too easy.

      So, when does your book come out?? 🙂

  2. Reply

    I had such a terrible black moment at the end of my book that I felt compelled to write another chapter to give it a more satisfying ending. I have been reading a lot of indie authors lately and there seems to be a trend with them to have the story end not so happily ever after, but when my book ended that way…it seemed so bitter that I had to take it there, so the ending is sort of bittersweet. I guess I just can’t be trendy. And that’s okay.

    • Reply

      sknicholls: Well, there’s an important distinction here too. The black moment is not the ending. It kicks off the last act of the book, before the final showdown. The ending doesn’t always have to be happy, but it should be satisfying. So even if the hero sacrifices himself in the end (Will Smith seems to have a thing for those kinds of endings), it’s a triumph of sorts because he’s doing it to set things right, pay back a debt, or save the day at his expense. If the black moment is the realization that he’s going to die, the resolution might be that he dies on his terms, taking the villains with him (so maybe still accomplishing the overall story goal). I can actually think of quite a few examples all of a sudden from movies over the last few years, but I don’t want to spoil them for anyone who hasn’t seen them.

      Anyway, be true to your story (rather than a trend), but make sure there’s an emotional tug of war and that the resolution–whatever it is–isn’t arrived at too easily. At least, that’s my opinion. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Black is da shit | Simona Ahrnstedt

  4. Reply

    I have a pretty damn good black moment coming out soon. It’s a definite no way out scenario. I’ll let you know when it’s out…probably end of October.

  5. Reply

    Also…I need to read your book. I love Scriverner on my desktop, but I’m not in love with it’s syncing capabilities, unless something has changed or I’m just uninformed. I pretty much exclusively write on Google Drive docs now so I always have access (desktop, phone, ipad, any other computer) to anything i’m writing. Am I missing something with Scrivener?

    • Reply

      suttonharlow: As far as syncing with Scrivener, something like Dropbox works well for multiple computers, but until Scrivener for iOS comes out (later this year? early next year?), there’s no great option for all devices. You can use iPad apps like Textilus or Simplenote which I hear work pretty well with Scrivener, but I haven’t played around with them much myself.

      • Reply

        Yes. I’ve used dropbox and simple note (I think) on my iPad, but it’s just not practical for frequent use. Hopefully the iOS version will solve the issue because I love the desktop tool.

  6. Reply

    I agree. I have just finished reading the latest release from a huge, popular (historical romance) writer and it was a big disappointment. No black moment though it was hinted at throughout the book. There was little tension and it was emotionally flat. Predictable. A real letdown.

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