Black was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Paul and Patricia Ann Black. His father was in the printing business, and helped Black get an interest in hardboiled fiction, such as the works of Mickey Spillane and the Matt Helm series.
After living in the suburbs of Lower Burrell and Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, his family moved to Fullerton, California, during his sophomore year of high school. There he attended Sunny Hills High School and later UCLA where he majored in film and theater and graduated in 1983. Black had a long history writing comic strips, short stories, and journalism. During his senior year he decided to make a living from it once his classmate Fred Dekker showed him a science fiction script he did for an assignment. Black's older brother, Terry Black, also wrote short stories and decided to move into screenplays starting with 1988's Dead Heat, in which Shane has a cameo.