Heros, Heroines, and Detectives

Sunday, October 01, 2017

One of the key points in a story is variously referred to as the “black moment” or the point at which “all is lost” or “the dark night of the soul.” It’s the point at which your main character reaches their low point, where everything they’ve been working toward turns out to be false, and there’s no hope of ever achieving their goal.

Whatever you call it, it usually occurs shortly before the climax of a book. In fact, it sets up the climax and the thrill ride to the end as the hero or heroine comes out of it with a revelation as to what they’re really searching for or a new way to achieve their goal.

In mystery stories, the black moment is often the discovery that the primary suspect in a murder couldn’t possibly have done it. Frequently, that suspect is killed, showing the sleuth that the killer must be someone else. The detective has to start over with the evidence and figure out where they went wrong.

Unlike other genres, the main character isn’t necessarily the one who experiences this emotional death. Sherlock Holmes is the perfect example of this. When circumstances appear to stump him, he, like a superhero, doesn’t despair. Instead, he withdraws into his own head, furiously thinking until he arrives at the solution. Sometimes he’s not wrong, but to all appearances he’s failed, especially in the eyes of Dr. Watson, the chronicler of his stories.

When I was developing the indomitable Lilliana Wentworth, I had this kind of sleuth in mind. She does have her flaws and weaknesses, but nothing can keep her down when she sets her mind to it.

The series opens with her still mourning the death of her husband after nearly two years, and she fears that she’s developing dementia, something she’s seen too much of in the retirement home where she lives. She has closed herself off from most other people. The only bright spot in her life is her small collection of African violets.

And then there’s a murder, and she’s the primary suspect. Forced into proving her innocence, she finds renewed purpose in solving the crime.

For three books, Lilliana Wentworth is Sherlock Holmes. Or Jessica Fletcher. Or Miss Marple. Nothing really rattles her, even when her initial deductions turn out to be wrong.

And then, as I was writing “Double Pink Murder,” Lilliana had a genuine black moment. It wasn’t something I had planned for my invincible heroine. It just happened as I was visualizing the scene. Part of me always intended on going back and changing it.

But during revision, I got to that scene and just couldn’t eliminate her dark night of the soul. I wrestled with this because I knew in my heart of hearts that that’s the way I would have reacted in that situation. It’s how anyone who was human, given the circumstances, would feel. So I left it in.

But I was always uncertain about it, fearful that Lilliana wouldn’t live up to the expectations readers had of her character, and they’d be disappointed. So far, no one has mentioned that. Not my beta readers and not in any of the reviews the book has gotten. But I’ve still been uneasy.

Until I saw the meme posted at the beginning of this blog on Facebook recently. Because it really is true. The indomitable hero—or heroine—is still human. It’s not that the heroine doesn’t cry. The heroine is the person who is able to cry; and then carry on and emerge victorious.
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A Clash of Kings
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