Posted On August 31, 2016 by Print This Post

Writing Black Moment Scenes by Rayne Hall

RU Contributor Rayne Hall returns with a primer on writing the crucial black moment. 

Most novels have a ‘Black Moment’ when all seems lost before the main character resolves to try again and rallies all her strength Rayne Hall Photofor the big confrontation at the novel’s climax.

The ‘Black Moment’ adds drama, excitement and emotional depth to the novel’s middle part. If your draft suffers from a sagging middle, adding or improving a Black Moment can be the solution. Here are professional techniques you can use.

* Place the Black Moment in the middle of your novel or a little later. Two thirds into the book often works well.

* Internal and external conflicts increase to a level where the MC can’t bear it any more.

* Arrange it so everything and everyone has turned against the main character at this stage. Make it as difficult as you possibly can: His girlfriend has broken up with him, his allies have deserted the cause, he has been fired from his job and evicted from his home, the villain’s henchmen are closing in, and his big secret has been exposed in the press. To make matters worse, his daughter has been abducted and will die unless the hero surrenders the proof of the villain’s machinations… and he can neither rescue her nor deliver the documents because he’s locked up in a prison cell. Really pile it on.

* Make it still more difficult by taking away his means of communication – the mobile phone (British) or cellphone (American), the internet connection, the humans who might carry a message.

* Turn the suspense volume up as high as you can. The “ticking clock” technique works well. The hero has only a certain amount of time – perhaps one hour – to escape from the villain’s clutches and rescue his girlfriend, defuse the bomb or save the world. He is aware of the time ticking away. You can emphasise this by actually showing a clock. The hero sees he has thirty minutes left… then fifteen… ten…five…two…one. This builds enormous suspense.

* The Black Moment doesn’t have to be about high action, but can be a situation of quiet desperation. In the romance genre, it may simply be that the heroine has lost her lover and there seems no chance of winning him back.

* All seems lost. Only a tiny shred of hope remains that the hero will achieve her big, important goal.

* The MC feels disappointed, disheartened, betrayed, desperate, helpless.

* If the plot allows, consider adding fear to this cocktail of emotions. He fears not only for himself, but for the safety of his abducted girlfriend, as well as for the people in the building the villain is about to bomb, for the survival of the human race, or whatever is at stake in your story.

* Let the reader feel the hero’s physical responses to the tension: the aching neck, the dry throat, the sweat trickling down his sides.

* During this ‘Black Moment’, the main character may also learn unwelcome truths about herself. In many novels, this is when immense character growth happens.

* At the end of the Black Moment, either as part of the same scene or in a separate scene, something happens that convinces her that she must make one more attempt. She rallies her last ounce of strength and courage, re-commits to the cause, and gets ready to try once more. (This final attempt, in which she risks everything, will be the book’s climax. For tips on writing the climax scene, see this blog post.)

* If you’ve structured your novel with the ‘Hero’s Journey’ plot model (after Joseph Campbell’s theory), the Black Moment equals the so-called ‘Ordeal’ section.

* The Black Moment is a descent into darkness – physical, emotional, mental, psychological or spiritual, or even all of those.

* To increase the metaphorical ‘descent into darkness’, consider locating the scene underground. The effect will be amazing. How about a storage cellar, a castle dungeon, an abandoned mine shaft, a cave?

The more desperate you make the Black Moment, the more exciting the Climax and the more rewarding the End.

Do you remember a Black Moment scene from a favourite novel or movie? Tell us about it.

Have you planned a Black Moment for your current work in progress? Tell where you’ve located it and in what ways you’ve made the main character’s situation really desperate.


WritingScaryScenes RayneHall Cover 2014-01-27WRITING SCARY SCENES

Are your frightening scenes scary enough? Learn practical tricks to turn up the suspense. Make your readers’ hearts hammer with suspense, their breaths quicken with excitement, and their skins tingle with goosebumps of delicious fright.

This book contains practical suggestions how to structure a scary scene, increase the suspense, make the climax more terrifying, make the reader feel the character’s fear. It includes techniques for manipulating the readers’ subconscious and creating powerful emotional effects.


Bio: Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and more) and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.

She is a trained publishing manager, holds a masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.

Sulu More BooksHaving lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian on Sulu Dial 02theTwitterPic Sulu Scary 01 lookstowardsskull Sulu Fight Scenessouth coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.

To learn more about Rayne, visit her website or follow her on Twitter where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.

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25 Responses to “Writing Black Moment Scenes by Rayne Hall”

  1. This article is posted at the perfect time for me, Rayne. I’m writing a dark drama and am 1/3 of the way into it. Your list is going to be invaluable to me.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | August 31, 2016, 9:10 am
  2. Some good timing on this post, Rayne, I’m right (write?) in the middle of planning some scenes of this nature for a long, ongoing web serial.

    Great article, some good tips I’d not considered! Especially the idea of setting it underground; I just so happen to have a deep sea setting for part of this work, and that amount of sheer PRESSURE would work wonders for a character’s mental state.

    Posted by Yurika Grant | September 1, 2016, 7:30 am
    • It sounds like this article has come at just the right time for everyone. Soon I’ll start to wonder if this was some psychic or telepathic connection. 🙂

      A deep sea setting? Wow, how exciting! that’s perfect for the black moment, especially if it’s going deeper and deeper down. And yes, this adds yet another form of pressure in the literal sense.

      Great stuff!

      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | September 1, 2016, 12:06 pm
  3. What I particularly like about this post is the listing of the writing techniques which can help to make a black moment very black indeed.
    Currently I am re-reading “Tripoint” by Sci-fi best selling author C.J. Cherryh (a woman), and she uses many of the techniques you mention.
    Thank you for another very interesting post.

    Posted by Judith Rook | September 1, 2016, 4:56 pm
    • Hi Judith,
      I think it can be fun to look at the methods we have available to make the black moment very black, and to select the ones we want to use for our current WiP. We writers may have a sadistic streak, selecting what to put our characters through, and enjoying it. 🙂
      I haven’t read anything by C. J. Cherryh. I’m haven’t read much science fiction other than the classics. Is Cherryh an author you would recommend?

      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | September 2, 2016, 2:19 am
      • Excuse me for butting in, but I’d like to say yes, Cherryh is well worth reading – she has been one of my favourites for years, particularly for her ability to write alien races as truly alien, in thought process and culture, as well as appearance.
        Great post Rayne, I use this technique in my own novels but you’ve given me a few extra ideas here, as you always do.

        Posted by Deborah Jay | September 2, 2016, 5:00 pm
        • Hi Deborah,
          I’ll have to add C.J. Cherryh to the ever-growing list of authors I want to read. I’m a super-fast reader (often reading a book a day) but my list grows faster than even I can read.
          I’m glad you were able to pick up some new ideas from my post.

          Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | October 25, 2016, 12:54 pm
  4. Hi Rayne,

    I’m always asking myself if my black moment is black enough, in part because I’ve read so many novels where it barely registers a blip on my reader radar. I’ve never considered the placement of the BM, which for me is in the last third of the book. In most romances, the BM is followed by the resolution two chapters later.

    My favorite kind of black moments are those in which the character believes he’s gotten a foot up on the situation and suffers another major setback.

    Thanks for another fabulous post.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 1, 2016, 5:38 pm
    • Hi Jennifer,

      I think romance has a more ‘standardised’ structure than other genres. If he BM is followed by the resolution two chapters later, that’s what readers have come to expect and enjoy, so it’s best not to deviate greatly from this pattern.

      That’s a nifty technique to let the character believe he’s gotten a foot up on the situation. It makes the setback of the BM feel worse.

      Maybe he thought he got a foot up – but it was a trap sprung by the villain. Maybe he was even led into this trap by his best friend who turns out to be the villain’s henchman.

      We writers can be so cruel. 🙂


      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | September 2, 2016, 2:26 am
  5. Hi Rayne,

    I was surprised to read how we should place the black moment halfway through the novel, or 2/3rds. I’ve always heard it should come right before the end. Is there a trick I’ve been missing? In any event, good article.

    Posted by DougK | September 2, 2016, 6:09 pm
    • Hi Doug,
      Whenever some someone makes a rule about what writers must ‘always’ or ‘never’ do, I ignore it.
      In some novels, the Black Moment comes around the halfway mark, in others it’s closer to the end. And in yet other novels, there are two Black Moments.
      If it works for the story, the author is right. 🙂
      So for your writing, I suggest you place the Black Novel where it works best.

      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | September 4, 2016, 11:26 am
  6. This is a fruitful article for both novice and advanced writers. Rayne has practically given away the secret of how you can make a story rich, interesting and breathtaking. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry confronts despair on every front. He can’t go to Hogsmeade, he can’t go to see Hagrid on his own, and he loses confidence when he confronts a Dementor, and Sirius Black is also a threat to him. So at this moment his life is hanging by a thread. I can see a black moment very clearly. This is the recent book I have read, and I can see that Rayne has correctly pointed out how black moments should be implanted in a novel. Please keep up the good work.

    Posted by Umar Razi | October 17, 2016, 2:12 am
    • Hi Umar,
      I think JK Rowling is a masterful plotter, and The Prisoner of Azkaban is a great example for how to make things very dark and difficult for the main character.
      Do you think you can use the Black Moment in your own fiction, or are you writing only short stories?

      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | October 18, 2016, 3:52 am
  7. So the black moment is when the MC hits bottom ─ Inanna stripped of her glory and her life, hanging on a hook in the underworld.

    I’m trying to think of what the black moment in “The Girl with All the Gifts” would be. It’s subverted in a way too. It seems like the black moment would come **SPOILERS** when she releases the spores and destroys what’s left of the old world. The old world’s inescapably corrupt, though. Opening the box at that moment allowed her to save one good thing. Maybe that moment was the climax? It was her victory anyway.

    Posted by Aimee | October 17, 2016, 7:06 am
  8. I think I like the quiet desperation thing more than a loud one. If written well, it has some blood freezing effect in it. When you do not fully realize how bad the situation is, cause the MC doesn’t act frantically, doesn’t scream and shout, but you know that something is really really wring.
    I can’t remember examples now, but definitely be more effective Black Moment for me. And the way out would be accordingly more interesting, less obvious.

    Posted by Lilit Galatea | October 18, 2016, 2:23 pm
  9. After reading this post, I realized just how many of my favourite books and movies have this black moment. It is definitely a component that adds depth to the story and with such subtlety. I’m just wondering if it would be necessarily a bad thing if the main character didn’t overcome the black moment. Would that ruin the book for the readers?

    Posted by Shenae Richards | October 29, 2016, 10:23 am


  1. […] Writing Black Moment Scenes […]

  2. […] This is maybe my favorite thing about being a writer… “the black moment.” I came across a nifty article recently about the subject over at Rayne Hall’s blog. […]

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