Writing out the darkness

I’m still reading my completed novel with red pen in hand. This is the last time—until an agent or editor asks for changes. And yes, I said that before, but this time I mean it. It’s past time to move on to the next novel.

I’ve been plotting the new one in my head for months now. I know my main character well because she was a minor character in the last novel. She was a middle-aged woman in that one, but this story will start with her at age twelve. I “see” the other characters, and have written brief sketches of them for my file. I know how the story begins and ends. I’ve drafted several key scenes. One, I wrote yesterday.

It was not an easy scene to write, and I doubt my critique partners will thank me for it, but it’s crucial to the story. In fact, there are a few very dark scenes in the beginning of this book. That’s something I’m concerned about balancing out because of a recent reading experience.

I appreciate the author’s talent, but the story is so depressing I fear there’s little chance of a happy—or even hopeful—ending. I’m not sure I’ll finish reading the book. Not that I require my reads to have happily-ever-after endings, though I admit I’m partial to endings with at least a glimmer of hope things will work out well. I think the problem with that novel is more that I don’t care much for the main character, so I’m not as willing to walk through the darkness with her.

With that in mind, my goal is to make my main character sympathetic and weave a little light through the darkness, so I don’t discover I’ve written a book readers would despair of finishing. Let’s see if I can pull it off.

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31 thoughts on “Writing out the darkness

  1. Ah, weaving light through the darkness …. as you know, I face the same challenge. Do you mind revealing the title of the book you’re not sure you’ll finish?

    Keep us posted on your progress. I’m glad to hear you’re putting the red pen to rest for awhile.

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    1. You know, Cathryn, I always sense humor in your writing, dark as the subject matter might be, so obviously you’re a good weaver.

      Not putting the red pen down until I finish the last 100 pages, but then I have to set it aside.

      Since reading taste is such a subjective thing, I hate to speak ill of any work in a public forum. But I was going to email you because the book is one you rated highly on Goodreads, and I wanted to ask if it does get any lighter.

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  2. I also tend to gravitate towards the more heavy, serious side of things, and sometimes need to remind myself to add a little playfulness to things.
    Sounds great – the way you describe your process, your characters, your scene – a great process! Also sounds like you are ready to dig into this story and really get your hands full of dirt, under your fingernails and all!
    I hope you will be satisfied with this final draft, Linda, and I wish you all the best with it.

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    1. You know, Jennifer, sometimes I wish I could write humor so I didn’t have to spend so much time in dark places. Unfortunately, funny stories just don’t take root in my mind.

      My “process” is the only way I know how to write. I just have to “live” the story for a while, and then I can write it. I envy all my writer friends who have the discipline for outlines and spreadsheets and all that, but when I try to do it that way, it kills the story for me.

      As for the book, now you know. 😉

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  3. Man do I know where you’re coming from. The balance is difficult to achieve. Too much darkness and the story can become dreary and depressing, but too much UP-UP-AND-AWAY and the reader starts to smirk and ask what happy, happy, planet you’re living on, and do they hand out the anti-depressants or just put them in the drinking water. Good luck!

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  4. I am partial to hopeful too, and I love your distinction between happy and hopeful endings. It’s not the same. I’m going through my book “one last time” too. I sigh a lot. 😉

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    1. Hey Miss j, nice to see you again. Oh yes, “one last time” has been my mantra this whole year so far. I kept thinking I would magically produce some literary classic on the next round, but it ain’t gonna happen. I write what I write. *sigh* 😉

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  5. I am now scared to read your next submission to writer’s group. 🙂 Just kidding. I can handle dark, but I’m like you, I need a little light mixed in and a hopeful ending is a must.

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    1. Breathe easy, Kasie, that particular scene comes about two thirds of the way into the book, so I won’t be submitting that for some time. There are other earlier dark scenes, but I’ll warn you, so you don’t pick a particularly bad day to read and critique them. 🙂 And I know you’ll give me excellent tips on how to lighten it up.

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  6. The contrast of darkness with light is compelling. Maybe writing in the light after having created the darkness will make it more gripping!

    I am making changes to my MS because I think I need to do so. I’ve read warnings about writers obsessively revising their work in its final stage. How would a writer know that she is being obsessive? All I know to do is wait for my MS to cool and head into the pages again. If I ever get to the point where all truly IS right and the best it can be, I hope I will know.

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    1. Ah yes, Carol, I fear I’m in danger of becoming one of those obsessive revisers. I think if I read it 100 times, I’d still want to edit. My friend Kasie reminds me to stop when your edits only make changes, not improvements. And after this round, I think I’d just be making changes, so I’m letting it go.

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  7. I’ve read books like you mentioned and of course you can pull it off. A tiny light will do. Even a single candle flame lights up the darkness. And makes everything all the more interesting.

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  8. Wow, Linda — It really sounds like you have your act together to move forward with your next novel. That’s exciting.

    I’m with you on the need to balance the light and the darkness and have some hope without rainbows and pink unicorns bouncing all over the place. You strike a good balance in your blog and so I have confidence you’ll pull it off in your novel as well.

    Interesting that you’re using a character from your first novel in this WIP. Is it going to be a pre-quel?

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    1. Awww, but I love rainbows and pink unicorns! 😀

      I had toyed with the idea of splitting Brevity in half and if I had done that the first half would have been a prequel to the second half. That was a DUH statement, wasn’t it? What I meant to say was the story in the first book would have started fifteen years earlier than it does now. Of course, I didn’t do that.

      The character I pulled from Brevity for the new novel is a minor character that intrigued me. I wanted to tell her backstory. But I could just as well change her name and not connect her to the first novel. We’ll see.

      [I blame low blood sugar on the rambling in this comment.]

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  9. I get the need for balance too, but this made me think of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I dreaded reading it, and then couldn’t put it down. I like the dark, it interests me more the light.

    I also know that you know the best strategy is to follow your gut.

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    1. Since I started out writing horror, I obviously gravitate to the dark too. I find it infinitely fascinating to explore the darkness. But I know a person who depresses me just by her presence and I don’t want to be the literary equivalent.

      I didn’t read The Road because I saw the movie first. Unfortunately, I was not in a good frame of mind for such bleakness, and did not react well.

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      1. funny – i was just talking about this book this morning! wasn;t the darkness for me, i just didn’t connect and kept trying, but finally gave up. been trying decide if I want to do the film. it’s dark, linda?

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          1. Linda, I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t tell you. I resisted the book for a long time because it scared me. But once I started I was so captured by the writing (at once poetic and stark) that I couldn’t put it down.

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  10. Well done! Glad to hear this is the last and you are moving on.

    And I hear you with “living the story”. When I start writing, that’s how it is. I only outline later, about 20k words in, when I have the shape of the story in hand, but need direction.

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    1. I start a scene list after I get into it, which I guess is my form of outline. I enter my key scenes and then I can see what I need to fill in to get from place to place. And then, as I flesh out each scene, I enter more details to my list.

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