Every now and then, a denizen of Romancelandia makes a declaration on the bird app, and that starts a conflagration. Recently, a reader declared, “romance authors please consider not adding that annoying ass third act breakup, do something different, break the mold,” which caused a huge flurry for several days.
I commented with my perspective on our Twitter account and left it at that, because, to be honest, the bird app is not my favorite place to exist.
AND THEN I attended the Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling conference, and in the live sessions, comments on the black moment (that third act breakup) came up frequently. They all sounded a little bit like, “this is a bit of a controversy right now, but I like the black moment because it is important for tension/conflict/resolution of characterization issues/etc.”
I’m not the first person to say this, but obviously one person’s opinion is not universal, and if you’re an author selling books to a warm readership, they’re probably buying your books because they like how you’re creating a narrative. Just sayin’
That said, what occurred to me as I heard this raised by several published authors is this: I, personally, actively dislike the runaway/breakup black moment that occurs at about 85% of a book most of the time. But that’s not all the time.
This is a space where what you like as a reader totally matters, but also, I’d argue that it’s dependent on how much you read. I have been voraciously consuming books this year. My reading goal for the whole year was 150 books. I’ve consumed more than 200 romances this year, and we’re just about two-thirds through 2020. They have not all been good books. They’ve definitely not all been amazing books that I’d readily recommend.
I have read so many of the same problems/conflicts/characterizations so many times, that it’s been really easy to get fed up with some genre conventions that I’ve never cared about at all in the past (please see me ranting about every protagonist ever declaring they’ll never love again).
But here’s the thing, and I’ll use specific examples in order to be clear…
For me, the black moment in Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert is not the same as the black moment in She’s Got Game by Laura Heffernan. For example. I could list many other pairings, but those are two books that we’ve posted about on this site, reviewed by me.
There’s a runaway situation going on in both of the books above, but in Chloe Brown, both protagonists have very clear backstories that lead to the behavior that occurs at the black moment. Everything about the black moment is grounded in those emotions, and the protagonists haven’t really known each other long enough to fully let go of the trauma in their pasts and embrace the trust that goes into the future of the relationship. The choice to have the separation is a deliberate choice on the part of the heroine to shield herself, and it makes sense in context, which makes the ending extremely satisfying.
With She’s Got Game, I was enraged by the heroine’s behavior most of the time. The heroine had some emotional baggage we were made aware of, and which was supposed to explain her response to the hero, but in fact she was simply rude almost all the time, which was super unappealing. These protagonists also didn’t know each other terribly well, so based on the relationship they’d developed, I did not understand why the hero would want to make the continued effort to be with her. When the black moment arrived and she made an assumption based on a something that could just as easily have been a nothing (and was, in fact, a nothing), ditching the hero without a word, the resulting resolution was not satisfying. It was me thinking the heroine really didn’t deserve the HEA.
The result is the same in both of these books. There is a breakup black moment before resolution and denouement. And different readers will react to these breakups based on how they feel emotionally connected or disconnected to the protagonists. But storytelling matters, and casting a wide net to make readers feel emotionally connected to the protagonists, even if they personally feel they would not behave as the protagonist behaves, does take skill and attention to characterization and motivations and fears of the protagonists.
Rather than accepting the blanket statement as a universal sentiment one does or does not agree with, maybe we should dig a little bit deeper and figure out what’s driving that hot take. If we, the readers, are meant to believe that this relationship has staying power, we probably shouldn’t be left with concerns that the protagonists never really knew each other or that they never had a solid relationship before the black moment. Just sayin’.