The Black Moment
OUTER STORY: should have escalating conflict – bigger obstacles, more vicious baddies – until there is a final showdown
INNER STORY: there should also be escalating conflict with a final test.
Often, before the climax of the story (when the hero and heroine finally get together) the conflict will escalate until things reach breaking point. Different craft writers call it different things : crisis, major setback, the black moment. Whatever name you prefer, this is where your character hits emotional rock bottom.
Basically, this is their ultimate test. They’ve been growing and changing, and they’re almost ready to earn that happy ending with the hero/heroine, but to convince readers they are ready to embark on that relationship without sabotaging it themselves we have to show them that the character has truly changed. This is one place where you really have to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’.
At the end of the story, readers will project into the future and guess what will happen after ‘THE END’. You want them to believe that divorce is not an inevitable part of that future, that the Happy Ever After is going to last.
So, how do you test them convincingly? You make them face their deepest fear! It’s the best ammunition at your disposal, and if you set your character up as being afraid of something, you have to pay it off. It’s like Indiana Jones telling everyone he’s afraid of snakes – if we didn’t see him dangling over a pit of the little monsters at some point in the film, we’d feel cheated!
Allegra's fear: not being free - but as the story develops, she starts to realise it's not her circumstances that are trapping her, but herself. She stuggles to break out of her self-imposed shell, but it's hard and she wonders if she'll ever make it. Rather than being a one-off moment for Allegra, it was an on-going situation that intensified.
Finn's fear: losing someone he cares about - but he's also scared of exploring that fenced-off area inside himself. Finn manages to engineer his own black moment rather nicely when, because he refuses to do that emotional exploring, his only other option is to walk away from Allegra. He looses her. It hurts. But it was his choice, so he thinks he's going to be okay. Stupid man.
When the pressure is at its greatest, your character will often return to that emotional armour that protected them for so long, and reverting to this behaviour will often be what triggers the Black Moment, either for themselves or the other character. And it’s often the fallout from this event that pushes them to make that final change, to pass that final test, because they realise they are not the person they used to be any more, and they see that self-defeating behaviour for what it really is.
Each character will have their own moment of crisis but, depending on the story, one may be more intense than another, and they may not happen at the same time. Your characters may grow and change at different rates and you will have to decide what works for your story. Sometimes one character will complete their arc before the other one.
For example, the hero might be ready to commit and start a life together, but the heroine’s inner demons are still chasing her hard and she may do something to seriously jeopardise the relationship and split them apart.
In Finn and Allegra’s story, Allegra finishes her character arc first. She faces her fears and learns to take charge of her own life, make her own decisions. She finally has that inner freedom she’s always yearned for, and she uses her new-found courage to do her bravest act yet – she tells Finn she loves him. Finn, however, hasn’t completed his arc, so this sends him running – both emotionally and physically. He rejects her.
I threw in a little extra test for Allegra – now that she felt empowered, I wondered if she would overcompensate, if she would try to control situations, impose her will on others, the same way others had imposed theirs on her. I gave her a moment of choice, where she could have chosen to go down that path, but ultimately she decides that she can’t curtail Finn’s freedom either. If he has chosen to walk away, she has to let him.
Finn takes a little longer to learn his lessons, but he works it out eventually, and then he comes back ready to explore that uncharted region of his emotions, ready to embark on his biggest adventure yet – love. Yay!
More on the Happy Ever After tomorrow!