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Whether Light or Dark


If you write fiction, should you write light copy or dark? Is the choice like that of light or dark turkey at Thanksgiving? Does your preference reflect your inner workings or your reading preference? And does it matter?

Authors like Stephen King write both. A reader doesn’t normally think of the author of “Carrie,” and “The Green Mile,” as writing “Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.” In case you’re wondering, he also wrote another book on baseball, too.

Poets explore both paths to find explanations and impressions of the world’s workings and their own. Finding the humanity in dark literature isn’t new. It has a long tradition.

Mary Shelley created Frankenstein as more than a dark novel. The story roams through the reader’s mind as a look into a sinner’s guilt and requisite redemption, a romance set within the framework of a nightmare, and a glimpse of the terror-ridden existence of a life that should never have arisen. Like King, Shelley rolled human fears and motivations into a neat bundle and served it up as dark meat for the reader.

But Shelley was hardly the first to venture into the realm of shadows, sin, and the seamier side of life. The ancient Greek playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides gave the world dark tragedy with attitude. Their plays, such as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, certainly weren’t meant for the faint of heart.

These stage ventures also contained romance, sin and redemption themes, Gods—vengeful and otherwise–and human frailty. These ancient writers set more than the Greek stage. They put civilization on the road of writing works that drew the viewer into another’s tragedy, or comedy, and sent the mind spinning off into realms of distraction from the viewer’s everyday experience.

Comedy such as the wildly satirical work of Aristophanes allowed the audience to laugh instead of cry at the doings of man. The playwright used the play’s chorus to deliver scathing humor at the expense of the drama.  This playwright, 2000 years later, continues to rank as a master of dark comedy with a twist.

Today’s writers strive for the same effect. Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series follows Shelley’s trademark theme. Vampires, too, seem to be created by others with agendas to keep.

Writers have a choice of how they present their ideas about the world and the players in it. Romance makes way for tragedy, while comedy lands on its feet next to the potential absurdity of fantasy, as that genre tries to remake history with personal ideals and mythical creatures. When you stop to think about it, today’s fantasy hails back to ancient Greek times in many ways, too.

The result is that there is much to recommend either path to writing success in the present world of fiction.

Dark stories creep along the washboards of a mind’s rooms, looking for a hiding place where they can leap out at the least provocation to startle the reader and elicit a yelp. Most people like a good scary story, especially if it travels to places unexpected.

Light stories give us comfort and humor to offset those days when life isn’t especially accommodating to us. We can imagine ourselves as experiencing someone else’s good time or good life. This is the fiction that many take on vacation, when all they want to do is bask in the sunshine and share with their friends.

Whether the writer chooses light or dark may depend solely on what’s happening in her life at the moment inspiration strikes. We do tend to include aspects of our lives into our writing each day. Some mornings our humor bubbles over and we’re silly, giving us different views of life than on days that feel cloudier than usual.

A reflective mood, such as mine today, gives me reflective work such as this piece. How I feel this afternoon will determine what I work on then. It’s gray and rainy outside, and cold. Perhaps a mild tragedy is in order for tonight’s entrée.

  1. March 16, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Always enjoying your thoughts, Claudsy. You’re very poetic in your writing today! 🙂

    • claudsy
      March 16, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Thanks, Hannah. Poetry’s good.

      • March 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm

        It is, good, so are stories. 🙂

    • claudsy
      March 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Thank you, Hannah.

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