Novelists: 1 Easy Question

Oct 6, 2015Work Uncaged, Write!

This is a guest post by Susan May Warren, my awesome novelist friend, to celebrate our compilation BARGAIN book on writing. If you’re an aspiring writer, longing to be published, pick up your awesome purchase of 99 cents here!


So, here’s Susan! Oh and here she is: me, Rachel Hauck, Susie, and Tracy Higley.


My aspiring writer, Sally, slapped down the open page of a spiral notebook onto the table at the coffee shop, and slid into her chair, unwinding her scarf. Outside, the sun shone bright in a cloudless sky, adding heat to an otherwise arctic day.

I picked up her notebook. “I see you’ve done your homework and discovered a dark moment in your character’s past, and then journaled about it.”

“I did that. It was fun. I did the research and saw his story—living through the attack on Pearl Harbor–through his eyes. In his own words, he told me everything about the attack, and how his buddy died protecting him, and how he wishes he could have died in his friend’s place, especially since the guy left behind a fiancé. He made my hero promise he’d look her up when the war was over. I did the same exercise for the heroine.”

“This is fabulous.” I handed her back her notebook. “Last week, we talked about story flow.  Today, we’re talking about Dark Moment plotting, and how it fills in all the big blanks of your plotting roadmap, or story outline. You start by asking your character to tell you about a dark moment in his past, or at the beginning of the story,  that shaped him, and then ask him to tell you in his own words.

By finding that one Dark Moment, you have found all the important elements of his story:

  • The motivation, or what your character wants.
  • His greatest fear, so you can craft the black moment
  • His internal “Lie” and his quest for truth that comprises the inner journey, which will help you craft the black moment.

She had flipped the page and had made a chart. “Okay, so you’re saying, that his greatest fear is repeating something from his dark moment in the past—like, losing his best friend?”

“Yes. You could go many different ways. He could lose someone close to him. Or you could build on his loss. Maybe he fears betraying the man who saved him, like stealing his girl.”

“Ooh, I like that.”

“The Dark Moment of our character’s past will contain many of nuances of fear – we just have to pick the one that works for our story, then build it into the plot and make sure you have it happen at the black moment.”

“I already have the motivation – to pay back his friend for saving his life.”

“And you have the Goal of the story, and the Noble Cause–to keep his promise to his friend to watch over his girl.”

“So, what’s the lie he believe and how does that work?”

The lie helps you form the inner journey. Your character starts out believing something that might not be true – like he didn’t deserve to live, or he doesn’t have the right to love his friend’s girl, and through the story, he finds the truth – like, yes, he deserves to live, and every day is an opportunity to live well. Or yes, he can fall in love with his friend’s girl, and they deserve to be happy.”

So the lie is about finding that thing he learns in the story?”

“Yes. Going from the lie…to the truth, which is revealed at the epiphany. There’s a step by step process of creating the inner journey, but for now, you just need to pull out those elements and put them in your plotting roadmap.

“What about the wound you mentioned?”

The wound is part of the romantic development – a romance heals the wound. So, maybe you ask him about his experiences with romance and what he believes about it. Again, have him write it in his own words, and if he has a story to tell, even better. The key is, you’ll also use these stories in the course of the book – to tell them to the heroine, and the reader. It is a way to deliver backstory without a narrative dump in the middle of the story.”

“Try this: put the elements into a rough story outline for the hero and heroine:

This is a story about (Who).
What happened to him in the past?
What does he want?
How will he attempt to get it?
What does he believe?
What bad thing will happen to him?
What will he learn?

This will help you understand the flow of your plot. Just remember: Every story has the same key elements that can be created by exploring one Dark Moment in your character’s past.

Try this: Instead of writing a complete bio history of your character, try asking him what Dark Moment in his past shaped him (or her!), and see if you can make a story outline. You’ll be surprised at how well you understand your story in a nutshell!

Would you like more information on how to build an entire story from the Dark Moment? Check out: The Story Equation: Simplified in the new book Writing Success (available for preorder for only 99¢!)

Go! Write something Brilliant!

Susie May Warren

Susan May Warren is the RITA, Christy and Carol award-winning, best-selling author of over fifty novels. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the founder of, a craft and coaching community for novelists. Visit her at: