fantasy,  peter of windbourne,  WIP,  writing

Writing with the darkness.

This week’s writing has been more difficult than others, and not because of the usual reasons (laziness, business, distractedness). While I’ve slowly made progress from 0k to 4K (about 2K from the chapter end) it’s been laborious, to say the least. Though I’m writing from a draft, I know what’s going to happen, so technically I shouldn’t be having issues.

Except I am. And it’s all because it’s so damned dark.

Fantasy tends to fall to either side of the extreme: light and hopeful, or dark and mournful. Or at least, it’s light peppered with enough dark that the contrast leaves you a bit heartbroken.

And I have to blame myself for this predicament, because with Peter of Windbourne I really wanted to take the last draft, completed some three years ago, to another level. I wanted to complicate the characters and relationships more, shake up the alliances, and use a broader brush to pull in the shadows. I wanted it to grow up. As a result, scenes that were once a little depressing, perhaps, are all the more dark, and it’s made a tough haul for me.

Typically this kind of thing doesn’t bother me. I dealt with darkness a great deal in the last few books. It may be that it affects me more this time around because this story is the first story I ever completed, and I know the characters more than any others.

So, this week’s writing has been in fits and starts. I typically finish a chapter a week, sometimes more. But it’s been all herky jerky, and distracted. Happy funny things on Twitter are so much better than writing about the destruction of a kingdom, and the inability of even remarkable people to do anything to save it. Perhaps it’s that hopelessness that’s getting to me… it’s quite likely.

The destruction of hope isn’t a pervasive theme in the book, but it’s one that I wanted to write more about in this draft. I think that helplessness is important especially in relationship to our world. I have a really difficult time wrapping my head around the kind of hopeless injustice that occurs around the world–violence to children, families, cultures–and this is my way of dealing with it, with commentary.

Because heroes can’t always win. In fantasy we are programmed to think that heroes, if given the right tools and spells and time, can save anyone. But sometimes they can’t. For all the flak that Tolkien gets, I think that was the greatest gift he gave the genre (even if it is so often ignored). Sometimes the hero fails. But in that moment of darkness, out of that despair, comes such a rich possibility.

Anyway, talking to a few people about the issues, the advice has ranged from “carry on” to “don’t write about it”. I am moving foward, albeit slowly. Because if I stop writing about the things that matter to me, if is stop telling the stories that are difficult, I compromise one of my core beliefs. Holding a mirror up to nature, and all that. In reality I may not be the bravest of beings, but in text I can forge on further than the boundaries here in my world…


  • Jim Breslin

    Natania – A good post about a subject I’ve been reflecting on a lot. In a way, I’m starting to think writing is like “method acting,” where you have to get in the skin of the character and the character becomes you. I’m working on a story that each day by noon I’m exhausted and I spend the rest of the day thinking about the character. I think the deeper you try to go, the harder it becomes. Good luck.

  • Liam

    Natania — certainly carry on. Sometimes sluggishness may a sign you’re going in a direction you know on some level is working. But in this case it seems you’re having to deal with something more challenging because it’s more powerful.

  • Steven Till

    Natania, I’m right there with you. With the first couple of drafts of my novel, my characters were too flat, either too much one way or too much the other way ( light or dark if you will), and I tried to broaden those characters, and oftentimes didn’t like the decisions they made or the manner in which they acted. It’s still something I feel I can improve on. Like you said, “heroes can’t always win” (never more true than with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire), but in truth, that’s what makes the characters more tangible, more human. Keep plugging away at your writing!

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