Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Black Moment

Some people are plotters, some pantsters. Some think of their characters first, others their plots.

I'm a black moments planner. I plan my black moments first then figure everything else out. I've discovered when I don't do this, I have problems with the rest of the book. I think of a couple of characters, and put them in a miserable situation, then I kick them and make the situation worse. From there, I pattern a plot and characters to fit the moment.

I generally have 3 or 4 black moments per story. Some of them are related, some of them aren't. The tough part is making sure I don't write myself into such a tight corner I don't know how to get out. But I would rather be in that situation than the opposite.

Too many stories I read lack a really juicy black moment. Sure, there are plenty where the hero or heroine are in mortal peril where the bad guy is dangling them from the top of the Empire State building or some other type of life or death situation. While these are exciting, they are over in an instant. I like those black moments which are internal. I like to read those situations where the hero or heroine has to make a choice which will cause them unimaginable misery either way. I like to see what they do and how they make an untenable decision, live with it and still end up with a happily ever after. It raises the stakes for me as a reader, makes me more concerned about the characters and makes the story memorable.

As a writer, it is a challenge. First, do I have it in me to put these people through the wringer? Ha! I have three children, I delight in suffering. Second, is it a tough enough moment to put the reader on edge? We all have our threshold. For some, a black moment could be breaking a nail, for another, it could be the earth being destroyed by an asteroid. But I think the most effective is the black moment which really tears the character apart emotionally. Third, the challenge of finding a way out is tough. As a I writer, I don't want to make it too easy but at the same time I don't want to write a 200K word book.

In one story I've started, the key black moment is a toughy and I'm not sure how to write myself out of it. I think is a tough enough conflict for the heroine that the solution will be a big pay off. In another story I started, the black moment isn't black enough to hold my interest, so I've put it aside until I can think of a way to make my characters sufficiently miserable.

How important are black moments to you? Do you have a process for creating them?