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Swell: to well up, as a spring or as tears.
We've all written something similar to:
Her throat tightens, the well of tears threatens to burst. A single tear escapes, and then another, until she can't stop the sobbing, can't contain the flood within her.
It's gradual, it builds, it culminates in a sudden burst. The emotion swells in the character until it overflows in their reaction.
We can apply this character study to our actual swell toward the black moment of our story. A black moment is when all is lost, when the bubble bursts, the sobbing brings forth the flood of tears. As we write the very first word of Chapter One, we must have a black moment in mind so our writing becomes "purpose-driven". Our characters, circumstances, symbolism, all culminate toward that black moment...for optimal BURST!
If we don't build up the stakes, give the reader strong lungs to expand the bubble, imagery to provide the force that breaks the dam, our black moment might deflate like a balloon with a pin-size hole-- slow and weakly.
Two novels come to mind when I think of excellent weaving toward a purpose-driven black moment. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and She Walks In Beauty by Siri Mitchell. One gives us a good example of a circumstantial burst, while the other gives us an example of a symbolical swell. Both are effective.
***I will warn you, the black moments revealed may be a spoiler if you haven't read the novels, so read on if you don't mind.***
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: The Circumstantial Burst
As a child, Jane is locked up in a haunted room by her cruel Aunt. The tiny girl must spend the night with the anticipation of evil spirits taunting her and torturing her throughout her stay. This is a turning point for Jane for she is sent off to school shortly after.
This tiny hook sets up the circumstances Jane encounters as a young woman who works for a strange, troubled man, Mr. Rochester. An attraction begins to weave between the two as Jane aids him during several occasions of being awakened at night by shrilled laughter and evil doings, the very disturbance she feared as a child. The suspense of these episodes culminates to an explosion when Jane's wedding day is ruined by the knowledge that a woman had disturbed them all those nights, and that woman was Jane's fiancee's wife.
Suspense was successfully woven through out the first part of the book, giving more and more air to fill the balloon, until finally, the burst of the balloon not only released the power of each building circumstance, but stripped away all happiness that Jane had hoped for, thus giving us the black moment.
Did Charlotte Bronte write the first scenes of Jane's childhood with the idea that she would carry on Jane's fearful nights to ones that created "swell" toward a devastating black moment? Maybe, but the swell is there, and successfully done.
Clara Carter is entering her debut with much reservation. She is pushed along by her aunt, and suffers the headaches of socializing, and the measures taken for beauty, especially the restrictive corset.
While she dances away the season, her corset is a constant reminder of the person she's suppose to be (beautiful, reserved, a catch for the most eligible bachelor). She can hardly eat, hardly breath, hardly enjoy anything without fear of fainting. As Clara learns more and more about herself, the corset comes to symbolize her forced identity by her family, holding her back from a future of her choice.
The black moment bursts forth its flood when Clara discovers the death of her mother was actually caused by the health risk of wearing a corset, the very symbol of her family's expectations.
Siri Mitchell's novel takes a physical element and weaves it through the book from the very beginning, revealing its symbolical significance at the black moment. Clara despised the corset, but succumbed to wearing it because it was expected. It was a physical part of debuting in New York at that time. But when we discover the black moment consists of the actual destruction caused by that element, the corset takes on a symbolic quality, the sob that pushes forth the tears of loss for Clara. Her mother's corset was the death of her.
Clara becomes aware that her prison is the corset, and to keep her family's approval, she must follow in their schemes. Any future plans for herself are impossible. Thus, she comes to a crossroads, the black moment brings her to the decision of choosing all she's expected to be, or choosing who she truly is.
When I read this novel, I had no idea the corset would become such a central symbol to the black moment of the story. And that is what we want, isn't it? To allow all the little droplets of tears hide within the story until they accumulate and break the dam into a flood of realization for the reader and the character.
Have you considered an effective way to build up to the black moment? Do you swell more with circumstance or symbolism? Can you give us a peek at how you get to your black moments?