Thursday, July 23, 2009
Whistling in the Dark
By Kelli "How dark is too dark?"
No one is actually afraid of the dark. The dark itself can't hurt you ...
No, what makes us dive for a flashlight and jump at household noises is the awareness of things that hide in the dark.
Hiding, too, makes us uncomfortable. Outside of the childhood game -- and when you think about it, hide-and-seek is kind of a sinister early training for survival -- human beings don't hide unless we're either predator ... or prey.
The dark makes us hyper aware of our vulnerability. Our mortality. And we look for what may be hiding from us, not in fear, but in intention.
So when we talk about "dark", what are we really saying? Fear. Fear of death, pain, loss. The strongest, most common impulse that unites human beings--at least the sane ones--on the planet.
I don't think of violence or any single criminal act as "dark" writing. For me, darkness is hitting those unspoken fears, of flirting with our demons, sometimes even sleeping with them.
It's going to the dark places of the mind, the shadowed corners of the soul. It's teasing out the heartbeat of a perverse thrill, a peep show for the reader into motivations that may be more disturbing than actual deeds.
Now, all that said: I really loathe gratuitous violence. Casual murder. Unexpressed and glossed over agony. And there are certain things that I just can't write about.
I once threw a book across the room because it featured a particularly gruesome death of a child, and the act was handled with all the subtlety and sensitivity of a hockey puck. To me, that's mind pollution.
I feel that my duty as a writer--particularly as a crime fiction writer--is to make every death matter. Every crime matter.
Every loss hurts, every act of contrition or confession seems inadequate. I experience the pain with my characters, and recreating it leaves a scar.
Go figure. When I was a Drama major, I always preferred to act in tragedies, though I loved to watch comedies. I read a lot of different types of books, but what I'm wedded to as a writer lives in the darker levels of humanity. I don't want anyone's pain forgotten.
I guess that's why I'm a noir writer. Through pain--through our universal fear of the dark--we come closer together as human beings. We resonate, empathize. Even find redemption.
And maybe, if we get close enough, we'll figure out how to keep each other safe from what's out there ... lurking in the dark.