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I'm currently learning about story structure and there's not much consensus on the "black moment" or "all is lost lull" that happens around Act 2. Is this moment of defeat before or after the second plot point? Or rather is it the second plot point? Does it matter? Is it a matter of preference for the writer?

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    Relevant TV Trope: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DarkestHour (Warning: rabbit hole may ensue) – Jerenda Mar 7 '17 at 4:08
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    Story structure simply isn't that strict. While it is clearly a mistake to think of a story as a random sequence of events, it is equally a mistake to think of it as a predetermined sequence of plot point. The art of a story is fundamentally moral and a story can come to a moral crisis by any number of devices. – user16226 Mar 7 '17 at 4:53
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What is the darkest, blackest moment in a book?

First, I think it's best to understand what this is, considering you asked. The darkest moment in the book is when a character loses all hope - normally the protagonist. It's often towards the end of the book, because that's right before the inevitable happy ending (or not, if you're being cruel) will emerge from the dark. Some features of darkest hours include:

  • Moral crises

  • Death (of loved ones, companions, etc.)

  • The protagonist's goal becomes seemingly out of reach

  • The tables look like they have turned for good. The plot looks like it has been derailed and can't get back on track.

This can be seen as the climax of the book. It is the absolute climax where the hero faces everything head-on, and often can't get out of it.

Where does it fall?

Almost always at the end. Due to the type of event that it is, considering the factors that we just listed, it only really works as a climactic point at the end of the book. There can be dark moments before it, but at the very end, you're going to have your climax, and it's commonly going to be in the form of a darkest hour. Just because of the way it works it's going to come at the end.

In honesty, it should come where it artistically needs to be, over anything. It should be exactly where it needs to be to have the best effects and implications for your book.

I hope this helped.

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The "darkest hour" does not fall at the end, as Daniel Cann claims, nor is it the second turning point, as FraEnrico asserts.

The "darkest hour" is usually called the

crisis.

The crisis comes after the midpoint of the novel. The midpoint, as its name implies, marks the middle of the novel (50%) as well as the middle of the second act. At the midpoint, there is a turn of events and the protagonist decides to become proactive: he or she turns from the hunted to the hunter. The turn of events can both cause the decision or be caused by it.

After the decision to become proactive at the midpoint, the flawed protagonist fails. This catalyst of the crisis, which may be a lost battle or the death of a loved one, leads the protagonist into his or her "darkest hour", the crisis.

After the crisis, some catalyst of the second plotpoint, such as new information, helps the protagonist to understand their fatal flaw.

This understanding allows for the protagonist to make the right decision at the second plotpoint, which begins the third act at around three quarters of the novel (75-80%).


The crisis is not the climax, which comes in the third act, close to the end of the novel (immediately before the denouement).

Some more detail.

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  • I believe we talk about different things, due to linguistic differences. (I'm italian). The "Darkest Hour" for me is the "lowest" point of the story of the hero, not just the crisis - which is something that "leads to" the darkest moment. My teacher call the moment before the third act "The point of death", because everything is at stake there, and there is no turning back. I believe we disagree/misunderstand due to translations of translations. – FraEnrico Mar 10 '17 at 9:15
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You can create an average of any data set. If you average out enough story data than you can describe an average story arc and assign names to all of the moments in that arc. This exercise is not without value. It gives some insight into the nature of the beast. But few if any stories will actually conform to the arc which describes the average of a hundred stories. If we take the average as the prototype rather than the archetype the result will be false specificity.

This is not to say that many people have not successfully turned the archetype into a prototype to create a formulaic story. One could argue the George Lucas did exactly that when he very consciously based Star Wars on Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces.

But even if you can be successful by turning the archetype into a prototype does not mean that you have to do so to be successful. There are no iron laws of story that say that any given moment has to occur at any given percentage into the plot. There may be specific formulas for formula fiction that say something along these lines, and they may work within the limits of their artistic and commercial ambitions, but they are not the whole of literature, and there may be may different formulas with their key events at different milestones that also work just as well.

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  • Whoa, mandela effect moment... I always thought it was hero of a thousand paces... – Weckar E. Aug 30 '19 at 14:07
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If you consider a 3 act structure, the "Black Moment" is the Second Turning Point. It means, it is the turning point which closes the Second Act and leads into the Third (the first turning point being the one dividing First and Second Act).

The Black Moment closes the events occurring in the Second Act: after trying everything to accomplish his goal, the protagonist faces a moment where he has no other options than push until the end. Thus begins the Third Act, which is focused almost solely to the final conflict and contains the climax of your story.

The Second Turning Point (Black Moment) follows what in the Second Act is known as Midpoint: here the story seems to go well, all objects achievable, and the protagonist faces a moment of "fake victory". After that, problems arise again, leading to more obstacles that culminates in the Black Moment.

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I think it's the Snowflake Structure guy who plots out his books as "Three Disasters and an Ending." He likes a four-act structure rather than three (or five as on stage).

So you have your initial Event which kicks off the plot. The protagonist decides to go on the adventure, whatever it is, and makes an initial foray. This fails. That's the end of Act One.

Whatever that failure was sets up Act Two. The protagonist learns from this (or doesn't!) and more challenges ensue. But I think it's important that Act Two should be a direct result of the failure at the end of Act One.

Lather, rinse, repeat for Act Two to Act Three. More challenges, the protagonist tries again, and fails again. There will be successes along the way, but the act will end in another Disaster.

Now the stakes are much higher, because "people always stop after three." If you can't succeed on the third attempt, you'll never succeed, right? So the events from the first two acts are now boxing the protagonist in to make choices which lead to the Disaster at the end of Act Three.

This is where I think your Black Moment comes in. The protagonist has tried three times to succeed, and each time those attempts have led to failure — possibly even building on one another. It's the choice of the Hero to move forward despite these failures which is the turning point, the big emotional impetus of the last Act of the story, which leads to the successful Ending.

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Seeing how this is an old but unanswered question, let me throw this into the mix:

According to Blake Snyders Save the Cat the "All is Lost" moment is the reversal of the midpoint, a false defeat that feels like a total one. Spontaneous example I can think of is in the Disney Movie Moana, when Mauis hook breaks and they think they have no way to defeat the villain anymore, but then the third act comes around.

You can find an overview of Snyders beats here:

Blake Snyders Beat Sheet

It's important to note that Snyder provides a very strict "cooking recipe" structure when it comes to writing a story. It's great to get started with story structure, but it should definitely be taken with a grain of salt and not as gospel.

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I would say the "Black Moment" is anywhere from the 50% to 75% mark in the story. I would prefer "Darkest Hour", and instead of "Point of Death" the "Last Chance".

The Darkest Hour is when the MC (main character, main crew) stops believing the outcome they want is possible. If it is a romance, the partner they've been pursuing has left, or rejected them for lying or whatever; the MC believes they have lost their chance for romantic happiness.

In an action novel, the MC believes they will fail in their mission, the villains will prevail. Perhaps they are captured, or disabled, or the key event they thought it was crucial to prevent has in fact transpired, and they know it. The villain found the magic amulet and has proven they know how to use it.

This Darkest Hour will generally be followed by some reversal of fortune (a good thing). e.g. The imprisoned hero learns how she could stop the villain, but obviously cannot do anything about it. But the bumbling cowardly sidekick manages to find their courage and sneak the imprisoned hero a paper clip, and that's all she needs to free herself, rescue said sidekick, and vanish into the night with her newfound knowledge.

The final Act of the play is about the Last Chance, the one last thing the MC can do to achieve their goal. It is the Risk It All point, in Poker it is All In, pushing all your chips into the pot to bet on a hand you aren't certain will win. In action stories often literally risking death, in other stories like Romance baring your soul, the telling of all secrets, despite expecting the worst.

Often this is overcoming a personality flaw, but it doesn't have to be. (007 never overcomes any personal flaws.)

This is just the MC betting it all, because nothing else has worked, this is her last idea and nothing else matters to her. Not money or respect, nor her fame or her life. For her, defeat is not an option: It may be her fate, but it will not be by her decision or surrender. She's All In.

And that decision whenever it is made, leads to the finale.

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