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Turn Off the Light.

May 24, 2012


Just a few points of business before I jump into my topic of the day.

First, I would like to welcome all of the new followers that have made (in my humble opinion) the wise choice of following this blog. It is a pleasure to see new people, and I welcome you all here. I hop you enjoy the posts!

Next, I was asked to participate in a getting-to-know-you exercise over at: Poeta Officium. My response to the questions is almost done. A little more polish and I will be sending it over, along with a super-duper bonus: A picture of me. Ok, maybe it’s not such a super-duper bonus, whatever. Just be sure to drop by her blog and check out all of her guests. I expect it to be a very interesting series.

Ok. Today I would like to talk about going to your dark place. I had mentioned this last week, when I posted the conclusion of my short story in two parts (BeginningConclusion) ‘To Use a Gun No More’. This story will be the example I refer to in the post.

Please keep in mind if you go back to read it, this is the rough draft. I am presently leaning an elbow on the hard copy that I am editing. I received some good feedback from Mr. Stocking and after a re-read found some issues I wanted to address. Once the fixes are in, I will post the entire short here under the Steampunk section.

As writers, we express ourselves. Our thoughts, emotions and experiences all work their way into the content that we create. There are times when we need to create menace, tension and terror. It is at this point where we need to step into the shoes of our villain or present the Protagonist with a terrifying situation. Getting there can be a problem. Most people do not normally dwell on causing pain, duress, creepy nightmare stuff. I mean, unless you work in movies, TV, or accounting.

How then do I get to the place where I can write something hopefully chilling? I start with looking at myself and what is important to me. In the case of the short story I wanted the protagonist and his companion to encounter something terrible in the early hours of dawn, on a cold, rainy, dismal day. They are in the forest, fleeing pursuit. It is raining and there is fog winding its way through a mountain valley. Ok, the setting is in place. I have to admit, that setting (if you leave out the pursuing enemy) is one that I would rather enjoy.

I wanted as the title indicated to force my protagonist to want to give up the use of guns. I knew that he is a pretty tough, been around the block kind of guy, so it would take something special.

But what? What act could be committed that would make you want to discard the main implement of defense? What would make me sick to my stomach with guilt and regret?  Do you see where I am going here? By reflecting on my emotional response to that question I could craft the situation. Yes I could have surveyed friends/family/strangers on the street. I feel that using my personal feelings, those with which I have the most experience and feel for, I am be able to write more convincingly.

Hmmm, if you keep reading I must warn you I am about to give away some key plot points. If you have read the story, awesome! Thanks! If you have not, you could quick as a bunny zip over and read it, come back and then no problem. That’s my spoiler warning. Prithee, continue…

I engaged in daydreaming/brainstorming or however you want to call it and came up with the idea. At the beginning of the story I showed the problem in a more manageable and tolerable way. Adults, horribly transformed by Mad Science! are accepted and common in literature and film/tv. No big deal. My hero could mow dozens of them down with a brief pang of guilt over killing them, but rationalize it away as a ‘Mercy Killing’.

You see the antagonist has whipped together Steampunk-meets-Frankenstien-esque monstrosities using whoever he had on hand.

No the problem comes for our hero when he is faced with children who have been transformed by this evil tinkerer. How can he rationalize away the guilt for taking the life of a child? Even though it is a transformed child, menacing and attempting to kill the hero. Setting him up this way ensures a messy outcome if he survives. He will be changed, there can be no doubt about that.

What of the writer? How can he go there? Endangering children! Someone call child services… Oh wait, they aren’t real.

I do not have trouble separating reality from fantasy. By creating the worse possible scenario based on my own fears and emotions I can write something believable, almost tangible. Keeping the fact that it is only fiction in mind I can explore the subject fully and not become entrenched in it. I know that I am looking at some of my worst fears and most horrific of situations and it is knowing that helps me understand that I can indulge in this dark fantasy, because I would never really wish for any of it to come to life.

I worry occasionally, that I can imagine these dark and terrible things. That there might be something wrong with me. That I am too cold or callous. I examine and reexamine myself each time I write something dark. Thankfully, each time I conclude that it is not something I would desire to do, ever. That it is only a small part of my writing craft.

So, no worries. Going to the dark place does not mean that you are unbalanced or a danger to yourself or others. Just remember to stay grounded, and keep hold of what is real. It’s only fiction after all. We’re just trying to breathe a little more life into it.

Thanks for reading today, I appreciate it.


From → Writing

  1. Loved reading it Steven
    It is true that to write about antagonist or create his part one has to think like him,and I have seen some people totally sucked in that avatar for sometime…but then there have been people who wrte about it and dont get affecter by it the way others do..
    and i so agree with you i too dont think writing about bad things happening makes a writer bad is a story and in that story every character will have his share of fortunes and misfortunes..and sometimes kids/women/men/animals will suffer,but its a story!

    • Exactly! Thank you for your comment. I am glad my point came across, that it is just a story and not necessarily a reflection on the writer.

  2. I’m having to do this for my current WIP; my main character is very mentally ill and while I do have some understanding of what she is going through by no means have I manifested the way she has. And I too realised that I had to go into the dark recesses of her dark mind – or was it my mind? – in order to tell this story.

    They say ‘write what you know’ and I think to some extent people that write about evil are infact capable of evil… we choose to control it is up to us. Great post Steven :)

    • Thank you. You make a very good point. People do have some balance of good and evil within themselves. And it is how we deal with it that matters.

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