I thought I had a post all ready to deliver about how black moments have to be truly black and dark to hold reader interest. Then I read a book that proved otherwise. So instead, I'm going to contrast two great books and their approaches to the black moment and then seek your feedback.
When reading Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald, I had an epiphany: The best black moments occur when the reader truly doubts whether the heroine will get her HEA. At this point tension has built and the black moment delivers a knockout punch from which you are not sure--or indeed, truly believe--that the heroine cannot recover. Thus when the heroine glimpses her HEA again, the reader sighs with relief right along with her.
I think it was Piper who once said that she skips to the end of books to make sure that the heroine and hero end up together. But, when you read enough romances, you pretty much know that the hero and the heroine WILL end up together--the only question is HOW. However, I think the best stories make us forget this. We begin to bite our nails. How will the couple solve their conflict? The clock turns over to the small numbers of the night, and we still keep reading. We begin to fear that we're not reading a traditional romance. Will we have to wait for a sequel?
This approach to tension crafts powerful novels even when the tone is more light-hearted or even comic. But then along comes Emily Carmichael in The Good, The Bad, and The Sexy, and says, "Screw you, conventions of writing romance, I don't NEED a black moment." Usually, when an author makes such a bold decision, I loose interest about the halfway mark and never make it past the center advertising card. I skip ahead, trying to finish up so that I can move on to something else. Sometimes the secondary plot is enough to keep my interest (Allison Brennan's Speak No Evil is a great example of this), and I read ahead without any loss of momentum. But usually No Black Moment = No Repeat Customer.
So why does The Good, The Bad, and The Sexy work? The couple simply slide into their HEA with little more than a hiccup. The secondary plots aren't suspenseful enough to offer a real mystery. But this is a terrific book. The answer I think is the characters and their banter. Her characters are so much fun and the dialogue so snappy that the reader is happy to spend more time with the characters.
Now, here's the truly interesting part of this comparison: Both of these novels are variations on the same archetype/master plot: the fish out of water story. Heroine (or Hero) is thrust into a unfamiliar environment. Comic (or tragic) merriment ensues as we watch him or her flop about. Hero (or Heroine) is there to support/torment the adjustment. You can rack up library fines all the way back to Othello and beyond just reading variations of this story. Why, then, do we keep reading? We know that one of two things will happen: the character will decide that their old life wasn't so bad after all, or they will happily (or maybe not so happily) embrace their new roles.
We keep reading because each author handles this basic theme in a different way. Some will deliver a black moment so intense you almost forget to feed the baby. Some will be so much fun you almost forget to feed the baby.
What type are you? How black is your black moment? Which of your favorite books fit into each category? (Please share titles/authors!)