A Passing Shadow for WIPpet Wednesday

I’ve been pondering a bit of late. As I dive deeper into Edge of Darkness and continue working on CBC, I’ve started questioning why it seems I can’t write happy, light, sunshine-filled stories. Even some tales that I’ve started out in a lighthearted tone, turn dark along the way. My characters always seem to have issues; they’re damaged at some deep level, and I find it impossible to take it easy on them.

This bothered me for a little while. I remember the first novel I attempted to write. It was filled with snarky comments, and sassy characters. Nobody took anything seriously, and I approached the entire thing with a light hand. I still have the unfinished rough draft. I toy with taking it out and trying to pound it into something finished, but I’m afraid it would take a turn along the way. Could I force myself into writing it as I intended when I started? I have my doubts. But maybe that’s why I never finished it.

Anyhow, I think I may have figured it out. See, no matter how much we’d like it to be, the world is not all rainbows and unicorn kisses. People struggle. Every day. Against their own demons, against outside influences, against powers beyond their control, and situations of their own making. For some people, a happy ending is simply being alive after the storm passes.

I’m reminded of something Sam Gamgee says,

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

Not that I claim to be writing the “great stories” Sam refers to. But maybe that’s why I write the type of stories I do. Why I don’t craft the happily-ever-after ending, but more the “She’s tore up plenty, but she’ll fly true” type of story. (Bonus points if you can tell me where that quote is from.)–because I like to show the strength in people. The resilience. The quiet courage it takes to get back up even after you’ve been knocked down again and again. I put my characters through hell, I admit it, but trust me, it isn’t always easy. I dive deep into my their skin, channel their emotions, bleed onto the keys with them. But their stories deserve to be told as well. Don’t they?

Okay, enough rambling and spouting of doom and gloom. To prove I can provide my characters with some relief and some reward for all I put them through, I give you 9 sentences from CBC of a somewhat lighter, happier tone–hopefully without any unintentional spoilers. Keep in mind, I said ‘somewhat’. We’re not talking Pollyanna here.

I followed Dell out of the carriage, our conversation coming to an abrupt end as a blur of motion streaked towards us from the steps of the manse. I braced myself; for once catching the boy before he managed to get his hands on me. His face scrunched as I held him at arm’s length.

“Aren’t you happy to see me?” he asked.

“When have I ever been happy to see you, boy?” And my attempt at sounding gruff failed miserably.

He smiled, a light dancing in his eyes that I’d never seen before. “Well, I’m happy to see you.”

“And why would that be?”

“Because it means you didn’t die.”

See. Not so bad. Gylan is actually happy. πŸ™‚

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40 Comments:

  1. You have no idea the size of the dopey grin that spread across my face as I read this WIPpet. Though it is competing with the teariness I get every time I hear that Samwise quote.

    • Yeah…that quote…it’s one of my favorites. I can hear it in my head, and see the entire scene play out.

      I’m glad your dopely grinning. Driev is grinning, too. Inside. Where it counts. πŸ˜‰

  2. I agree with you. Even if not all stories are as dark or painful as some, there has to be that element, or there’s no story (I know, because I’ve read stories that tried to avoid darkness all together, and OY. Just no.). If you’re brave enough to go deeper into the pain that comes before the skies clear, who can fault you for that?

    I wish I could remember who said it, but I read somewhere that every writer has one story, and we spend our lives working it out in different ways. I don’t know that I agree completely, but I think I’ve figured out what mine is– the theme that comes out in every story, no matter what genre or mood I’m going for. Maybe yours is “She’s tore up plenty, but she’ll fly true.” πŸ™‚

    • That’s an interesting theory, about every writer having one story. If you ever come across where you read that, I’d love the link. There is some bit of truth to it, I think. I certainly do see a somewhat consistent theme across all my writing. Hmm…something else to ponder. Because, you know, that little guy in my brain never has enough to keep himself occupied. *rolls eyes*

    • That makes a lot of sense about us all having one story. There’s something to ponder, for sure! I think mine might be “hope.”

  3. Oh, Kathi! I have the same struggle as you. In fact, I talked to someone about this the other day and wondered, Why can’t I write light, funny stories? Why is everyone damaged??? I’m glad you’ve reached a point of acceptance. I’m trying to do the same. In the meantime, I’m grateful for your stories.

    • Most days I’m accepting of it. I do interject some humor here and there in keeping with a character’s personality. But I don’t think I have anything I’m seriously working on where the tone isn’t a bit…heavy.

  4. Interesting. I *do* tend to write happily-ever-afters, and I tend to add a healthy dose of humor and snark. I’ve tried to write dark stuff, and it all just ends up sounding far too heavy for my personal style—as though I’m taking myself and my story much too seriously. Since most of my stories revolve around relationships, I think it makes sense not to have them be dark, though.

    • Yes, Amy, there are definitely some stories and themes that definitely can’t go dark. Or at least bathe in the darkness, as it were. And nothing at all wrong with those rays of light and happiness at all. I’ve even been known to read them from time to time. πŸ˜‰

  5. A great post, and a very good point. All stories deserve to be told πŸ™‚

    Great WIPpet too!

  6. Even though I write happy ever afters, getting there isn’t always happy and light for the characters. Like Kate said, that makes for a pretty boring story. I’m not a funny writer, even if I might write some characters that are funny. Humor doesn’t come easy to me, the darker, more emotional bits seem to though.

    I love this excerpt! And that his ‘attempt at sounding gruff failed miserably’ πŸ™‚

    • I think I write snarky better than funny. πŸ˜‰ I wonder what a psychiatrist would think about my propensity to create damaged fictional character and then make their lives hell? Mwahahahaha. Oh, I suppose I shouldn’t do the evil laugh if I ever talk to one. Right?

  7. The darkness is where the stories are. ‘Nuff said. (Says she who writes of the Dark Ages …)

    GREAT snippet! See, you are capable of giving your characters some happy. πŸ™‚

  8. I sometimes find the laser-focus it takes to tell a good story lends itself to darkness and seriousness. I have to force myself to loosen up a little to write lighter things. Sometimes, it requires wiggling in my chair or dancing around the room. Once I get going, it works.

    • Laser-focus. *laughs hysterically* Oh…wait…I have that. Yeah. I’m like a freaking…LOOK! Loki on Pinterest!! I love dancing. I do it frequently. Usually while I’m cleaning. I’ve never tried it while writing, though.

  9. I too find that my works tend towards the same themes. I have not yet found a way to write modern fiction because for me, I need the distance of history or fantasy to convey the human truths I’m aiming for. I think all of us have our mediums and if yours is dark there is no problem with that. πŸ™‚ Also, loved the excerpt and the last line gave me a real twinge of emotion. πŸ™‚

    • I guess I really can’t fight it. If I try to force myself to tell the story any differently, I’ll hate it, and myself for not being true to how it wants to be told.

  10. Here’s my take on it… The darker the story, the more bright and happy the highlights are. If everything was all bunnies and light, we wouldn’t care how fluffy and cute they were or how many flowers the sunshine revealed. They wouldn’t matter because they’d be ordinary.

    It’s like living forever or having all the best toys in the world… If you’ve never lacked would you know how awesome all you had was?

    And having a damaged character allow the reader to feel both on keel and somewhat superior to the character… both of which help. Because we all do and have those parts to ourselves…

    And I knew Driev had to be smiling,.. inside.

    • Well, you do have a point there–about the highlights being brighter. Even a little highlight will seem like something huge, and to some of these characters, it would be huge.

      Smiling on the inside is the only genuine smile Driev can manage right now. Because if he’s smiling on the outside…it’s not good. πŸ˜‰

  11. I don’t think it matters that you don’t generally write light stuff Kathi. Similarly I would find it hard to write a rom com. My romances certainly aren’t comic, although they do have lighter elements to them.

    You’ve got to write in a way that fits you as a person – anything else is gonna seem forced. So keep doing what you do. It’s good. Great excerpt BTW. It’s nice that someone cares about Driev. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Elaine. πŸ™‚

      More people care about Driev than he is willing to realize. He shuns it because the one person he wanted to care didn’t.

  12. Kathi,

    I wanted to comment before i went to sleep, but I had my screen dimmed so as not to wake my husband, which made typing hard, and I had a migraine, which made coherent thought even trickier…

    I, too, tend to write about the darker places, and put my characters through torment. As my own attitude has become more positive, I’ve occasionally been troubled by this, and it’s been made more intense, this month, by my participation in the A-Z Challenge, and the things that are coming up as I pour forth 26 stories in 30 days.

    I wanted the Kifo Island Chronicles to document peaceful, supportive end-of-life care. I really did.

    But every character, whether dying, there with the dying, support staff, or hangers-on, seems to bring their whole lifetime of issues with them. Maybe that’s just the way it is – before dying, there’s a need for accounting, resolving…

    Or maybe it’s that the idea was born from a deeply shadowed place in my own life. 3 days from today will mark 19 years since I sat on a hospital bed, with a nurse who seemed like family braiding my tangled hair, while my fiance died.

    It’s hard to believe it’s been so long, but these stories began as a way to give Tim a better death than that, one that would have fed his soul and brought me maybe more peace than the trauma of that morning – or the one 11 years ago this July 25 (four days before my own birthday), when I sat beside my husband in a NICU room, as he held our dying baby boy, Elijah.

    For all that, I live a joyful life….maybe, in part, because of all that. I’m kinder to my two living children because I can’t be kinder to the one who died. I value my (mostly) wonderful marriage more, because I know the depths of losing someone who was a part of me…

    Maybe it’s that the striving to seek revenge, endure, overcome, find peace with, accept, and make something from our traumas is, in its own way, far more beautiful than that lifeof sunshine and unicorns could ever be.

    It reminds me of a line from an old Star Trek novel, Triangle, which I first read at 14. It went something like:

    “There was a part of her that was not so much attracted to the sunlit wholeness that was Kirk as it was to the ragged and monumental attempt at wholeness that was Spock.”

    I find a lot more to write about, and read about, in that ragged and monumental attempting, and I think that’s why I love my Spocks, T’Pols, ‘Lisiis and Drievs….they’re all ragged, tore up plenty, and they never seem to lose the hope of flying true, if not now, then maybe someday, somehow…

    I have never seen Firefly, but it’s on my short list of What to Lose Myself in Next.

    And, with that, I think I have just about made a blogpost. Guess I’d better copy this for future use! =)

    • Okay, now you’ve gone and gotten me all teary eyed. Yes, that is a blog post for future use, and I so want to hug you right now. I think you’ve summed it up wonderfully with this: “Maybe it’s that the striving to seek revenge, endure, overcome, find peace with, accept, and make something from our traumas is, in its own way, far more beautiful than that life of sunshine and unicorns could ever be.”

  13. I’ve managed to write happy things, but that’s only when I write the younger ages. When I write teen and up… I’m with you. No unicorn kiss, struggles, and that’s life. But, crazy part? I love my reading with happy endings. Give me sad endings or dark ones and I pout.

    I’m surprised to see Gylan so happy. A happy surprise. πŸ™‚

    • I’ve only tried writing for younger ages once, eons ago, when I was going to do a picture book about a sheep named Popcorn. There was also a book called Me and Billy Madison about a pair of good friends. Nothing ever came of either one, sad to say.

      I don’t mind reading things that don’t have a particularly happy ending, so long as the ending makes sense and is…hopeful? and leaves me with a feeling that things will work out in the long run. Quite a few of the HEAs I’ve read feel contrived. Either that, or I never make a real connection with the characters because I know, at the end, no matter what they’ve been through, it’s all going to work out. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Plenty of people need those endings. I just happen to not be one. Maybe because in life, I’m always just a bit suspicious of that kind of ultimate happiness.

  14. d’awww he didn’t die! Now, why didn’t he die!? =P

    I don’t write very happy things either, and I’ve contemplated it before as well. Then I realized because happy things just aren’t all that interesting to me because they seem fake and unreal. It doesn’t carry with it the essence of reality that I love to pit myself in the middle of. I’m not an optimist by any means, so I’m okay with writing not so happy stuff and HFNs. It’s something I’ve just come to terms with. So NOT a bad thing that you also write non=happy things. They’re happy in their own ways–like in this excerpt.

    • He didn’t die because I’d find it hard to write that from his POV! πŸ˜‰ He’s come close so many times…

      Yeah, they have their happy moments. See my response to Gloria. I, personally, don’t trust happy, happy. I love it, in the moment, but there always seems to be something lurking right around the corner. I guess we do write what we know…or at least what we feel.

  15. I love that Gylan is more perceptive than Driev really wants him to be. Kids don’t get as much credit as they deserve for their observation skills. More so, it shows how the relationship is developing, because this and that and this and that… which would probably bore you if I went off on it. (Child development is my “hobby” of necessity.)

    I’ve heard that bonus phrase, but I can’t remember where.

    Re: dark stories. I think we all find our strengths and obviously that’s yours. My snarky gets more accolades than my truly dark (which tends to frighten people), so I try to incorporate it frequently.

    • I hope when all is said and done I manage to write Gylan as a realistic nine year old. From all the comments on excerpts involving him, I seem to be doing okay. I don’t spend a lot of time with kids these days, but I agree–they are keenly observant. And many times they freely speak their mind regarding those observances.

      I don’t let my ‘truly dark’ out in public. It scares even me.

      • I think a lot of people could probably say the same thing about their truly dark. It’s pretty frightening how twisted the human mind can get. The wide array of torture methods available to the modern monster is proof enough of that.

        Kids can be tricky to write, I think. What a lot of authors (and grown-ups in general) don’t realize is that kids do not use the same kind of logic adults use. Something that may be so obviously poorly thought-through to us may in fact have been well contemplated and at least somewhat justified to a kid. Of course, then you ask them why they did it and they realize at least part of the flaw in their logic, so they say, “I don’t know.” At which point, you decide banging your head against the nearest hard object sounds like the most logical thing to be done at the moment.

  16. K.L., as I work on my third series I realize my bio should probably say, Has some trust issues. Every story I write has betrayal and lying and cheating and trusting the wrong person. But then again where is the story conflict if you trust the right person and no one ever betrays you?

    • Good point. There are authors, though, who can tackle the ‘lighter’ side of betrayal, lying, and cheating. Light and I apparently just don’t mesh.

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