How to set up and deliver the Suspense Black Moment.

Yesterday, we talked about the substance of the Black Moment and how to craft it, making it Personal, Plausible and it leads up to the Epiphany of the novel.

But, how do you deliver such a Black Moment?

First, you need to start with…The Hint… At the beginning of every great novel, or movie, there is a hint at what a character’s greatest fears might be.

It can be something they experience and never want to repeat.  It can be something a friend has gone through. It can be something they witness…but we need to see if (even if we don’t recognize it as the hint…although now you will!)  Because it will give us that dark foreboding we need to make the fear seem…well, dark.

One of my favorite hints is in a movie called The Hostage. The hero is a cop is negotiating the release of a small boy.  The boy is killed and the hero is completely undone by this. Of course, later, in the black moment, the very thing happens again – only with his son.

Let’s look at other hints…

In Eagle Eye, the hint of the black moment is when Jerry Shaw, the hero, attends his brother’s funeral.  Everything about the scene suggests that Jerry will never be a hero, like his brother.  In fact, his greatest fear might be turning into the opposite – a traitor.

In the Bourne Identity, Jason’s greatest fear is that he is an assassin, and that he can’t escape that destiny.  We have a hint of this in the headaches and nightmares that haunt him, and later the confirmation of another assassin who says, look what they’ve done to us! We can’t escape it!

In a funny suspense  Fools’ Gold the hint of the black moment is when the bad guys tie the hero up and dump him in the ocean, showing how evil they are. Or…it’s also him showing up late to his divorce..and losing the girl.  Another hint at the black moment.

The next thing we need is the Set Up.

Then, we need someone or something to actually say, hey, this could go terribly wrong!  The Set Up confronts the possibility that the Black Moment could happen, and how the hero might react to it.

It also takes away that element of, “didn’t they see that coming?  Oh, they’re too stupid to live.”  Yes – they did, but they dismissed it!  It makes the story believable.

Rachel Hauck incorporated the Hint and the Set Up in her novel the Sweet By and By when the heroine, at the beginning, doesn’t want to invite her mother to the wedding because she thinks she’ll make a mess of it.  She hints, but she also voices her fears.

Again, the set up actually voices the black moment in some way… and then dismisses it.  Sort of like when Frodo asks at the end of movie #2….what if we fail?  (“Don’t say that Mr. Frodo! We have to believe!”)

We need to know that the black moment/greatest fear is possible…so having someone acknowledge it in some way is a key element to building it.

So…you can Hint…and then Set It Up.  Or combine them into one scene. At some point we need to understand what that Black Moment would look like, at least in part.

Then, of course, it all builds to the Event.

The Black Moment Event needs to be clear and happen near the end of the story, when all seems lost (but before the Storm the Castle ending! Storm the Castle is the climatic ending of the book – where our hero finally confronts and triumphs over the villain, real or imagined. We’ll cover this in a couple weeks.)

Give us enough time – usually 3 chapters before the end – to really understand the black moment, and then see our character grow from it. A black moment that happens too close to the end doesn’t give us enough room for the character change that happens as a result of it. Likewise, it can’t happen too soon, or there isn’t enough tension in the story.

If you are adding in a romance element, the Event also leads into the romance black moment – that realization that they can’t be together.  So, as you’re building it, ask:  how will this event kill their love?

(Note: I usually write 20 chapter books, so the Black Moment Event usually happens around chapter 17, 3 chapters from the end.  You might put it into chapter 16, but if it is chapter 19, you might not have enough room to finish the story with the climatic Storm the Castle ending.)

The key to having a Black Moment EVENT is that it leads to an emotional and spiritual crisis.  I like to call it the “I wish I never…” moment.  The reason your character asks this is because we need him to see that he’s become a better person in the journey – it’s a moment of self-evaluation that gives him the vision to go forward.

Sometimes, this crisis happens before the Black Moment Event – and this event confirms that your hero was right about his fears or emotional crisis.  Most often, however, it happens during or after the black moment…right before the epiphany.
It’s in the moment when your hero or heroine “wishes they never” got themselves ito this mess that they realize they are overwhelmed and need help.  And help comes in the form of Truth.

The “Truth” is that lesson that they’ve needed to learn during their entire journey.  Often it’s dropped hint by hint until, in this moment, they realize the truth that has eluded them the entire journey.  This truth empowers them to finish their journey.

For example, in the movie Eagle Eye, the truth that Jerry Shaw realizes is that he can be a hero, just like his brother, if he’s willing to reach for it – even sacrificing his life.

(We’ll discuss this Truth more when we outline the Lie Journey in next week’s blogs.)

So…after your Black Moment Event (or before it, depending on how you want to do this), have him want to give up…have him “wish I never!” and set him/her up for change.

Along with the emotional crisis, you also need a physical response to the Black Moment Event. I refer to this as the Fish or Cut bait moment.  Or…when the going gets tough…what does your character do?

(For people who have taken the best-selling fiction or story-crafters class..it’s that “security” element of your character’s self esteem) During that moment when he’s thinking… “I wish I never”…he should also have a moment where he has to decide whether he’s going to turn around and go home…or fight the final battle.

We see this in movies like The Patriot, where our hero Benjamin Martin is going to get on his son’s horse and ride away. Or when, in Return to Me, our hero actually walks away from the woman he loves.

In the former, we see that in this moment, Benjamin Martin becomes a true Hero. In Return to Me, our hero becomes a cad…but suffers for it, and then rises to the occasion. You can have your hero turn back….as long as on the road home they turn around and run back toward the happy ending.

(I did this in my book Happily Ever After – Joe turns away from his heroic moment…but returns to it later, after his “storm the castle” moment)

The purpose of this moment is to add tension and conflict to the story.  In a romance, it aids in the realization that the hero needs the heroine, and can’t live without her.  In a suspense, it helps the hero confront the idea that he needs help – internal or external – to complete the journey.  It prepares him/her for their character change and the Final Battle.

So…ask your character:  When the going gets tough, what do you do?

Finally, you end with the Epiphany….which is where we’re going to end because I’m going to talk about that NEXT week!

Have a great writing week!

Susie May