Well, I promised you a third post today, on darkness, and here it is.
A little while ago, poet Cathy Bryant kindly commented on one of my stories: 'You do dark better than anyone currently writing, I think' and that got me thinking.
I do venture into the dark side with my writing, it's true, but I still sometimes feel uncomfortable about it. Things like swearing, violence, death and just plain nastiness all feature, but part of me worries that readers will think it's me that's like that and start to steer clear of me.
Of course, this is silly, but it is something I worry about. And yet, I think it's important and something which is missing from my past novel writing.
You see, when I write a flash, I can throw in a little bit of darkness and then walk away from it. When I write a novel, I find it harder to deal with. Last year, for NaNoWriMo I wrote a book with zombies, aliens, vampires and robots in it. There were many deaths and quite a bit of violence. So far, so good. But all the characters in it were nice, and pleasant. Even the guy who I'd set up to be a bit of a player, a bit of a cad, turned out to be nice in the end. The monsters were largely off-stage and always beatable. There were no extremes of light and dark, and no real bad-guy to focus on, and I think that was it's failing.
You see, the good guys in a story can never really be good unless we see how bad the bad guys are. If Star Wars hadn't had Darth Vader then the bad guy would have been the disreputable smuggler, Han Solo, and it would have been pants.
So, I'm aware that I need to put in a bad guy, without which I won't have jeopardy. And I need to make things genuinely threatening, not just kinda, you know, a little bit, whoo, that was close.
And I need to not worry what people will think of me when I write it. I've been reading some dark things recently and I think I've realised when that association with the writer arises. If the darkness is there because the author wants it to be there, and they crowbar it in - if it's gratuitous - then you start to think 'Blimey, Writer X is a twisted weirdo' and that's because the dark doesn't arise naturally from the story. However, when the darkness is part of the plot, and a driving force of the story, then you forget about the writer. It's just what is happening to the characters, as nasty and horrible as it might be.
I like to think that I'm never gratuitous and that the dark in my stories arises purely because the narrative needs it. I think that my slightly oblique, slightly tentative approach to it is the cause of Cathy's comment. The sparing nature of the darkness in my flashes makes it all the darker.
So, my lesson in darkness is that oblique works better than full-on, but that the darkness needs to be there, otherwise no matter how bright the light, it'll only ever be grey.