Black bear in stream.
Photo by Tom and Pat Leeson.
I hope they used a zoom lens.
Bears are one of the few animals that inhabit my part of the continent that I actively fear.
The photo strikes me as an appropriate icon for the Black Moment -- that ohmygod point in the climax of a novel where everything goes to hell.
Where the hero is up against the wall facing a firing squad or the heroine is tied to the railroad tracks. Before the sudden blare of the bugle tells us the cavalry is coming. Before the canvas is ripped away to reveal a company of marines.
When. All. Is. Lost.
And the protagonist faces death, defeat and the destruction of everything dear.
Via Writtenwyrdd (see sidebar) I found Jim Butcher who has a series of excellent essays deconstructing the elements of climax: he lists them as isolation, confrontation, dark moment, choice and reversal.
A fine example of this sequence is employed by fantasy/alternate history writer G.G. Kay in Song for Arbonne.
The good guys face a larger and more vicious enemy. Prior to the final conflict, a vital ally storms out of a strategy meeting and consorts with the enemy. At the balance point of the battle, just when a desperate tactic might succeed, the good guys face the bitterness of betrayal. He and his horsemen appear on the crest.
Then his troop charges -- straight at the enemy.
The important thing about the Black Moment -- and its resolution -- is that it must follow logically from the motives of the characters, the elements must already be present in the narrative, so the reader does not experience a WTF deus ex machina.
The Black Moment must be set up in advance.