Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Dark Side (Or, Help me be brave)

I've returned to my WIP, and it scares me. I don't write horror, or mystery, or thriller, or sci-fi, or paranormal fiction. Still, I'm scared. Of the dark.

In one of my older stories, I experimented with writing sex since I'd been such a prude on paper until that point. It was fun, titillating even. But now it's time to try out the dark side, sans the mask-covered, heavy breathing paternal villain. Oh, wait. I just realized that my "villain" is, in fact, a heavy breather and a father. Uh-oh.

The victim is a girl who, from age 7 until 10, receives the sexual attention of her father, who tucks her in at night with a bedtime story and a "massage", claiming it will help her calm down and relax before sleep. When Daughter starts to develop, Father ceases to come to her bed at night, which sends her into the arms of a local drug dealer who gives her "treats" in exchange for sex. All this at 10 years old.

Let me back up here and explain that neither of these two characters is a major player in my novel, but both are necessary to tell my bigger tale. So I only have to deal with their story in one, long, painful chapter. It's a side of life that is relevant to my plot, which I believe balances itself out with other fascinating characters like the clairvoyant who can see her own death and the chain smoking Swiss-Russian who can recite quotes from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

My concern comes with the possibility of upsetting readers. Now, now, don't jump down my throat about being such a wimp. What I mean is that since my novel is not a story of incest or sexual abuse, will this one chapter jar my readers, who will have already become accustomed to my beach-book style of writing?

Recently, after having read both of my published novels, a reader compared my style to that of Danielle Steel. Though I wouldn't exactly say I model myself after her, I thought about Steel's commercial success and said to myself, Not so bad. With that in mind, I'm wondering how dark I can get. My prostitute-drug addict, pre-adolescent character isn't about to throw herself in front of a moving train, but on another level, I feel her story is much darker than any Tolstoy tragedy.

Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina

I believe in this story and its potential for mass appeal. So in the end, I suppose I have to be brave and write what must be written. If when that day comes for you all to read this WIP turned published novel, I hope you won't be disappointed or consider tying me to the railroad tracks. If, however, you'd like to see my story turned into a made-for-television movie, I won't be too snobby to graciously accept the creation of a Facebook fan page to promote it.

To all my writer blogfriends out there, I encourage you, too, to have the courage to tell your story without fear of judgment. So much harder to do than to say, trust you me, but hopefully worth it. 


  1. If it's anything else but YA MG or romance I don't see why you can't write any of that. If it's that hard can you just boil it down to a couple of sentences. I don't know, I've never had to stretch myself that far before. I don't know how far you have to go to come back.

    Best of luck with this Wendy. It does indeed sound scary.

  2. That sounds like it's going to be really tough to write. I suppose all you can do is to get it down in any way you can and see what it looks like. Editing, assessing, and reflecting can all come later.

    And still it's tough.

  3. And yet, in a symbolic sense, isn't your young character throwing herself in front of a moving train? Sometimes the challenging passages are thrilling to write ... Enjoy this!

  4. I feel that, as writers, it is most important for us to always be true to the story. If we possess the strength to remain true, the reader will enjoy going along for the ride.

    Given that, and based on what you've said, definitely keep it in and have no fear! I understand your trepidation over the thought that your readers might not expect it as a result of previous works, but the unexpected isn't always a bad thing.

    Just my couple of cents...

  5. I'd say trust yourself.
    Write what you need to write.
    In the end if it doesn't work you can always tone it down or leave it out.
    Having said that, I have had a similar struggle with sexual abuse in my WIP. Handling the darkest aspects of humanity so the writing conveys the sense of what is happening without driving the reader away - difficult is an understatement.

  6. Edgy is in...If it moves the story forward then it should be included. Awful stuff happens in real life...

  7. I say write it and then see if it actually works. If it works, keep it no matter what.

    P.S. I am certainly no expert.

  8. I know just how you feel. I deal with a dark villain in my story, and how far is too far when writing from his psyche is a constant concern of mine. If it helps, I think people like to squirm a little when they read. (Exploring the human condition can be uncomfortable.) Not for chapters on end, but in small doses, I think it's all good.

    Happy weekend!

  9. I wouldn’t worry about the possibility of upsetting the readers… If that difficult, painful chapter is necessary for the story and the development of the characters, it wouldn’t upset the readers. And even if it does, not in an unpleasant way… :)
    You’re %100 right about writers writing their stories without fear or judgment. When those devilish duo come into the scene, story loses its magic...

  10. Follow up to everyone~ I wrote the scene, and my beta reader (who is a father and grandfather) said I handled it beautifully and appropriately. *sigh of relief*