Wednesday, June 23, 2010
An Invitation to the Dark Side
The fortunate people among us don’t live with the threat of violence. They don’t brace themselves against it. They don’t peak around corners checking for it. They see no need for a Plan B. And they don’t expect to step out of a door and crash into it.
That is the concept for Common Ground, my work-in-progress. Pitting someone, for which violence exists as a way of life, against someone who has absolutely no experience with it. At a past Saskatchewan Romance Writer’s meeting we submitted a snippet to be critiqued. One of my fellow members laughingly said she had no wish to read the whole story. Not her kind of book - too violent, too chilling, too uncomfortable. I took it as the highest compliment. I’d succeeded.
The idea, for me at least, is to create a situation based on grave reality or human suffering and to counter that with heroes and heroines who act with honor and compassion unique to their personalities. Whether they want to or not. They’re not perfect, but neither are they one step away from being the bad guy. At this point in time, that’s important to me. But that might not be the case, or important, to another writer drawn to the dark side. Gritty and raw are relative.
Life is hard and often ugly. Pick up a newspaper or watch the evening news. And some people have only to step out the door or close it behind them to find it. Humans, as a species, are capable of causing huge suffering to others of their own kind, not of their own kind, and to the very earth itself. The story possibilities are endless…and frightening. But what does dark and edgy mean for the feel-good, happily-ever-after expectation of the romance novel? It’s still there. Love and hope exist within in the darkest of circumstances, are perhaps intensified by it. They may no longer be the cure all of the past, but they do enable the reader to envision a future for the hero and heroine beyond the last page.
So how far is too far? Every writer has lines they are not prepared to cross. And ones they will. As a reader we can decide to read or not to read a book. No doubt about it, some books out there are breaking all the rules, pushing boundaries, and moving into uncharted territory. They are not for everyone. Because I’m an armchair thrill seeker, I enjoy those reads. That doesn’t mean I can’t find raw and gritty, on a different level, within the inspirational genre and others. As for my writing, it doesn’t contain explicit violence, buckets of gore, blurry or non-existent lines of conduct. But I’m not ruling it out for the future. I kind of like the idea of some future reader lifting her eyes of the page, staring into space and thinking, “Holy crap, did she just go there?”
Holding nothing back. There have been a few scenes I’ve given serious thought to toning down. One scene in particular comes to mind but I keep resisting because I feel it needs to be there, it has value as it stands. It is truly the point in the book in which the hero’s worst nightmare becomes an almost certain reality and he loses it. Some would think it tame and some would not. In the context of the rest of the book it’s intense, but it will be far easier for me to tone down than dial up in possible future revision requests. Also, if I compromise on this scene will it become easier to compromise on others, until I’m left with a lukewarm, watered down version of original idea? As long as the scene fits the storyline and is not used as ‘shock value’ I think it’s important to go with your gut, with your first instinct, and see it through. In the end, trusted critique partners, beta readers and editors will offer opinions on whether they think it works or not. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Reader Backlash. Not everyone is going to like your book. Thank goodness, or we’d all be fighting over the same ones. Hopefully, your cover and back blurb will give the reader a strong sense of what to expect on the pages inside the book so they don’t end up with a book they cannot or will not finish. We’ve talked a lot here on the Prairies about that all important first page which should also clue the reader into what they’re getting. Your website, free reads, newsletters and other promotional material should make it plain to potential readers what awaits them between the covers of your book.
In the end, the only thing we can do as writers is please ourselves first and foremost. I can’t write with my parents, in-laws, neighbours, or anyone else in mind. I like to embrace the dark side. I haven’t immersed myself in it completely. Here I go again with the word, yet. Because there’s potential lurking there that appeals to me.
What are your thoughts? Are you drawn to the dark side? As a reader or a writer? Do you have a favourite author you’d like to mention who likes to cross lines? As a writer, do you nudge certain lines?