Thursday, February 19, 2009

Heart of Darkness

It's blog chain time again and this time Leah got things rolling with this question:

So blog chain, (and others) show me your dark side...What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters???

When I first read this question the thought of darkness brought this poem to mind:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

-Stephen Crane
I love this poem. And while I cannot find the words to explain exactly what the exact meaning of it is, I do know that when asked to find the darkness within myself this is what I think of.

What I don't think of is my own writing. As much as I love the image of writers torturing their characters and using them as little voodoo dolls - I don't know that I do this. At least not consciously.

When I'm writing I am usually in one of two modes:

1.) Analytical mode. This is when I look at the story as a whole more like a machine with lots of moving parts. I need action here, motivation there, and resolution over here. I'm just trying to figure out the best way to get the puzzle to fit together.

2.) In the story mode. I guess this one is sort of self-explanatory. When I am actually typing and letting the story flow sometimes things happen that I really hadn't planned on happening. As long as this doesn't pull the story completely off-course from where I need it to go, then I just let it happen. So, at this point when bad stuff happens I don't really feel like
I'm causing it, but rather it simply is what it is.

I don't think I'm explaining myself very well here, and maybe that's just because I'm not all that comfortable with the idea of darkness within myself. Ultimately, I like stories about redemption and the ability of the human spirit to rise above, and even if I do have a hidden heart of darkness, ultimately I'd like it to bring light.

Want to read a much better response to this interesting question? Yeah, so do I. Let's both head over to the blog before mine in the chain over at Mary Lindsey's Weblog. And after that why not pop over to Archetype Writing, because I know she is going to have some interesting thoughts on this question as well.


  1. LOVE the Stephen Crane poem.

    Addressing the darkness within ourselves can be uncomfortable, I agree. I love it, though. The more extreme the darkness, the more intense the light that pulls us from it.

    With myself, at least, I feel like darkness is an intrinsic part of me and the goodness with which I override it is a choice. It gives me a sense of power to address and defy it.

  2. I never really thought of GG's topic as dark. But I love the poem you posted.

    Your post, combined with Mary's comment, have me thinking about battling darkness and bring up a snippet of Suzanne Vega Lyrics for me:

    When the darkness takes you
    with her hand across your face
    Don't give in too quickly,
    find the things she's erased.

  3. crap, if Archy is next that means I'm coming up!!! Hmmm LOL my verification is "later" :D I like that :D

    You know, when I first read this topic, I thought, "oh yeah, I sooo do that!" But I don't know that I really do. I did shoot one of my characters when I was stuck once - it worked soooo great!!! :) But I don't know that I really intend to torture my characters. Well, I save the musings for my post and just tell you that I thought you did an awesome job with yours :)

  4. I also like Crane's poem; I remember coming across it in high school.

    Darkness does serve a purpose; it gives the human spirit something to transend.

  5. Wow, great post. I love that poem. I agree that things that happen in the story--the bad and the good--just seem to happen because they need to. I know sometimes I channel my frustrations, my "darkness" into my characters. I make them say things I want to say, but don't. Maybe that's my darkness coming out? I don't know. This is all too deep for me!

  6. Mary - Yes, I definitely think I have a hard time coming face to face with darkness - my instinct is to always crack a joke. As a kid at slumber parties I was always the one who would start laughing during light as a feather, stiff as a board.

    Heather - Honestly, I didn't think of her question as especially dark either, but when she asked for us to "show us your dark side" I tried to work that in. I guess we will all find out how successful we were once GG posts her response.

    Michelle - Shooting a character is a great way to get the action moving. In the first season of The Office Michael gets kicked out of his improv group because everytime he gets stuck for what to do he shoots the other actors. It's hilarious.

    Sandra - Yes, you're right - darkness definitely does gives us somewhere to go up from!

    Elana - Oh, yeah my characters definitely say things I wouldn't but want to... but is that darkness?

  7. Love thepoem. I think exploring he shadow spaces within us and within our characters makes us not only better writers - but stronger people. Nice post.

  8. I agree. The topic wasn't dark because GG asked us WHAT we did, not why we did it. Huge difference.

    Fun though, huh?

  9. I've written family drama that isn't all to common but as for dark...haven't ventured in the deep waters yet. Might be interesting.;)

  10. Sorry, but the voodoo pic was great!

    And don't I wish I could look at my book in different ways. I think this is why I'm always stuck at some point.

    Off to read Ms. Taken! ;oD

  11. Oh, yeah, Mary, now talking about WHY we write however dark we do...well, I guess I worked some of that into my post.

    I didn't think the question itself was dark. It's been a fun change from some of the other things we were talking about, though.

    I do find it interesting that some people are less comfortable with their "dark side"s because I'm so comfortable with mine. I don't know if that says more about me or you, Kate. ;-)

  12. Ultimately, I like stories about redemption and the ability of the human spirit to rise above, and even if I do have a hidden heart of darkness, ultimately I'd like it to bring light.

    Not to get all philosophical or anything, but light cannot exist without darkness.

    This is a very difficult topic to address. I'm glad I have a couple of days to think about it yet. :-)

  13. Archy- LOL, It probably says a lot about both of us!

  14. I so got that Kate. It is what it is. I think so many times a story can take on a life of it's own, so to speak.

    :) Terri

  15. Kate: great post...I like the darkness to bring light too. And I love the Voodoo Dolls have feelings too....hahahhaha!

  16. AMAZING post here Kate! (And weird much? That poem has something to do with my pick for the topic of the week for the blog chain!)

  17. loved that poem, kate! I thought it was a great post!