Most of my writing is pretty light-hearted. I’m an optimistic smartass by nature, so a good portion of my characters are, too. But even in the stories where you know things are going to turn out okay for both the world and the characters, sometimes you have to dig into darker emotions and situation. And sometimes the story itself calls for a darker tone, maybe even through the entirety of the book and then the whole series.
So what do you do when the story needs to go places you don’t normally travel?
As it so happens, I have a few suggestions gleaned during the writing of my most recently completed novel Burn It Down, which is an epic fantasy about two brothers-by-choice in a kingdom that’s ruled with an iron fist. The whole world’s not what you could call a utopia by any stretch of the imagination. Plus you’ve got other races/species who like to kill humans just for fun, so leaving the kingdom is pretty much taking your life in your hands.
Get in the mood.
- You know there’s a scene coming up where you have to dig deep and put on paper something that you’ve (hopefully) never experienced, but need to convey realistically enough to make people cringe/cry/scream in anger. You know it’s coming because you’ve outlined the shit out of this novel. (Right? Right!) You can prepare with music, meditation, or dwelling on the worst moment in your life. There are a ton of different ways to get you where you need to be, so use them. Getting in the proper head space is absolutely vital.
- If applicable, do your research. If you’re writing a novel about rape in war, or kids being trafficked for sex, or any number of horrifying topics then do the research. It’s going to suck and you may end up needing to cuddle a puppy or kitten or do some scream therapy when you’re done, but the end result in your writing will shine through.
- Like any other aspect of writing, you need to read. Certain authors specialize in not just genre, but tones. Like you’re not going to read George R.R. Martin if you want to learn to write comedy. Read. Read. Read.
- Don’t wimp out. Don’t skimp. If it has to happen for the story to work, or for characters to develop, then it has to happen. And once you start writing the scene or chapter, don’t stop until it’s done. If you stop, you ruin the flow even if finding each word is like pulling out a molar with pliers and without anesthesia.
That last one is, I think, the most important one. Don’t shortchange yourself or your novel by keeping to surface levels if the book demands something more. Go as deep as the story and your characters need you to go.
A benefit to this kind of writing is that it can be a form of therapy. More than once I’ve killed off characters or tortured them physically/emotionally because someone or something went horribly awry in real life. You get to picture the person who wronged you in the poor character’s place and do awful things to them without worrying about, you know, jail time.
So get in there and do it right! Dig deep into the dark side of yourself and put it on paper. Your readers will thank you.