Advice from the Archives: Beefing Up Black Moments

We’re back this week with some more stellar advice from our archives! This handy post comes from the ‘Behind the Scenes’ blog series and is just as important today as it was in 2011. Enjoy! 🙂

Beefing Up Black momentsRomance HQ can be a pretty perky place but rest assured that whilst we love a happy ending, there’s nothing better than having a bit of emotional angst in a story too!

And there’s no better way to indulge our inner angst than with a great ‘black moment’. (Also known as the dark moment, the emotional climax, the crisis point.) After all, for a happy ending to carry true emotional weight, readers need to genuinely fear that at some point, the couple aren’t going to make it!

But how do you handle this crucial part of your romance? First, let’s take a look at what not to do!

Black moments fall down when they rely on…

  • The revelation of a very obvious secret.
    This can be particularly frustrating for the reader if she’s been in on the ‘secret’ from page 1!
  • The pregnancy reveal.
    This classic theme can work brilliantly, but it can also be the most predictable way to get your characters through those last few chapters. If you’re falling back on a device like pregnancy to generate some last-minute conflict, it’s a clear sign that your characters’ conflicts need strengthening. So, if you want to use it, remember that it needs to be prepared for, and then handled in a realistic, contemporary way; a knee-jerk proposal from your hero isn’t always convincing!
  • Random external events…
    Most notably, the convenient accident – if the hero only decides he loves the heroine when she’s at death’s door in hospital, he’s probably not worthy of her!

    & misunderstandings
    These are particularly disappointing when the conflict
    has been strongly built throughout the romance, and the misunderstanding has nothing to do with the conflict.
    For example, heroine suddenly sees hero with another woman and thinks he’s cheating, only to discover it’s his sister…
    Click to read more about coincidences, misunderstandings and contrivances – and how to avoid them!

  • The other woman does crop up quite regularly as a source of external misunderstandings and at this point she’s easily recognisable by her designs on the hero, cold beauty and hatred of other women and mysteriously appears in the penultimate chapter to do some damage. If you want to use another woman to cause conflict, think about why!

So, now that you know the pitfalls to avoid, let’s have a look at the three golden rules of writing an emotionally impactful black moment…

What turn of events will present the single biggest obstacle to their happily-ever-after?
When you’re thinking about this crucial scene, one great question to pose to yourself is, bearing in mind their intrinsic character conflicts, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen to this couple? Thinking along these lines should ensure that the motivation for the ‘black moment’ stems from pre-existing issues rather than the introduction of external elements.

Leading on from that, think twists, not devices!
As readers, we want to be endlessly surprised and engaged by the development of the central relationship. What better opportunity to add that unpredictability than by bringing about a black moment that forces your characters to react in unexpected ways?

However, make sure your hero and heroine deal with their black moment in character – now is not the time for your supremely Alpha hero to be reduced to an emotional wreck. If he made his millions through his steely determination, let’s see that character trait shine out as he suffers through his pain!

Finally, always remember – the lower the low, the higher the high!
Not only should the black moment build on previous exploration of character conflicts, it also needs to be the most extreme expression of conflict! Everything needs to be at stake here! In short, don’t shy away from decimating your characters’ relationship! Only then will you manage to temporarily suspend readers’ belief in the happy ending – this emotional dread that will make the reconciliation infinitely more effective.

You’ve heard from the Harlequin Editors and we’ve given you some top-line advice, but what are your personal bugbears about ‘black moments’? And which ‘black moments’ send a shiver down your spine when you see/ read them because they genuinely induce the fear that a happy ending might not happen?! Use #BestBlackMoment so we can see your tweets or comment below!

Happy writing!

The SOLD team

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