At its root, art is designed to influence people’s emotions. It is especially poignant when the art leads the viewer/reader down a path of emotions they may not have trod before. I’m not saying that some people have never felt remorse or anger or pure bliss. No, it’s the combination of emotions that can strike in unexpected and brilliant ways.
In the Netflix series, Daredevil, the character of the Kingpin is, shall we say, a little disturbed. We get a glimpse into his past when he buys a painting that is all white. A few different shades, and some texture, but for all intents and purposes, it’s white. Later we find out that it reminds him of white wall in his childhood home. It brought him comfort in a dark and twisted way. Because what’s not light and fluffy about killing your dad for beating your mom when you’re ten?
I’ve thought a lot about this painting and the Kingpin and light and dark. A photographer will tell you that to have a good picture, you need both light and dark. It is the contrast that brings out the small details and uncovers the wonders that lay waiting to be captured in our world.
So how can this work? This white painting.
Look at it from your vantage point. You’re the reader/viewer of the story. You get to see the whole picture, and not just the white painting. With that scope, the Kingpin himself is inserted into the equation, and we easily find the contrast between light and dark. Innocent—the wall—and guilty—the man who will do anything to keep his father’s abusive memory at bay. Comfort—the white—and dissatisfaction—his feelings of ineptitude.
When you are creating art, in our case writing a story, remember to keep contrasts vivid. The light will shy from the dark, and the dark will run from the light. But in the end they will clash, and one will win. The story you want to tell will determine which is more powerful, and all too often, the characters must slosh through a swamp of grays before they find which is their destiny. Don’t be afraid to give your characters dark secrets, insurmountable conflicts and/or a point of view that might not be popular. But also, don’t be afraid to let them experience both light and dark before they become something new.
Guest Post by Amanda Faith.
Writing is a tricky business. An author has to have just enough of various elements to keep a reader engaged in a story. Characters, as well as plot and setting, has to be believable enough that the reader becomes a part of the adventure they are experiencing. Nothing should be all good or all bad. Having darkness in your story makes for intriguing reading, if done correctly.
People generally have a habit of thinking something dark is horror. Not necessarily so. It could be darkness within a person. It could be a darkness that follows someone. The setting could be a dark place as in the struggles a town is facing and the good people trying to overcome their circumstances. Maybe Big Brother is watching or the character is invited to the Dark Side. Any of these elements make a story have a dark tendency.
Relatable characters make them believable. Plots that have ups and downs will be more entertaining. Nothing is perfect nor should it be. That would lead to a rather dull story. Adding a little darkness (or a lot of darkness) does instill fear and suspense. There are a few things to keep in mind when adding dark elements to your story.
- You have to keep your audience in mind. If you are writing YA, then you do not want your dark elements so gruesome and disturbing it scares off your readers (and upset parents). If you are writing for adults, you may want to make sure there is an indication on the back cover as to how “dark” your tale is.
- Does the darkness fit the genre? Although this one does tie in with the first one, there is a distinction. If you are writing horror, then great. Go for it. What about a dark mystery? Do you have your hard-boiled detective set in that urban underworld city with crime and moral ambiguity? How about the gothic dark fiction? You should have that sense of decay and ruin sprinkled with a touch of persecution. Action thriller? It’s that race against the clock that keeps the reader glued to the pages with of all of the twists and turns. With all of the various sub-genres, the writer needs to keep with the fiction of choice.
- World building. This is a very important element. Depending on your story, you will have to make sure that your world fits your problem. It adds the dark tone of the story with all of the history and atmosphere you put in place. Getting the world right sets the mood, making the story more believable.
- Don’t make a character too good or too bad. Remember, your audience has to be able to relate to this character. The reader needs to care about the characters. You want that emotional investment to keep your readers engaged. A bad guy can have a redeeming quality or two. The good guy will have some faults. Too perfect, either way, will lose a reader quickly.
- Have a clean (or nearly clean) resolution. Sure, the bad guy will lose, but we really don’t want to give up hope for him. Maybe he will realize how bad he is and seek some sort of redemption in the end. He may not become “good.” He may, however, become better than he was. The good guy may lose some of his luster, but given his circumstances in the tale, he was not to come out of it totally unscathed.
- Some of the best dark elements are not blood and guts. Sometimes the best dark tales are naked of all ickyness and gore. It can be done. Look at ghost stories, for example. It’s difficult to have a ghost be eviscerated – again.
- Good is only good as compared next to evil. You have to have the bad to see the good – and back again.
Adding darkness to the mixture will add depth to your tale and make it seem realistic. There is no perfect world. There are no perfect people. The only perfect thing is to have a reader get lost in your world for a short time.
About the Author:
Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way.
Teaching English and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at www.amandafaith.net.
Welcome to October, the scariest month of the year. That is, if you don’t count January, when all those Christmas bills start arriving.
Halloween is the equivalent of Christmas for horror and dark fiction fans, where spooky things prowl around in the dark and the calories from chocolate jump out at you from every bowl. To make sure we don’t get tricked, the Fictorians have a treat scheduled for you at the end of the month on Halloween.
The theme for October 2015 is Writing Dark Fiction, and we have lots of fascinating posts scheduled to entertain and illuminate your dark side. Guests this month include Nicole Cushing, Matthew Warner, Petra Klarbrunn, and Pamela K. Kinney. The usual collection of brilliant Fictorian authors round out a month that will help you discover the evil little entity lurking inside your mind. No, not the annoying inner critic that constantly makes you doubt yourself…the other evil little muse that can help you to write stories that will expand your writing skills and make your friends and family wonder how such a nice person could come up with something so icky and horrific.
Strap your six-shooter with the silver bullets to your hip, grab a handful of stakes in case you meet a wayward Transylvanian out for a meal, and get ready for a scary ride.
What’s that? Where’s your treat? Oh, yes…that would be on Halloween. After you’re back laden with tooth-decaying candy, gather around the flickering light of your laptop and enjoy 100-word stories of horror and dark fiction. Short enough to read quickly, but with plenty of bite.