On Writing Dark Stories

December 19th, St. Nicolas, patron saint of my wife, then girlfriend. Her relatives and friends are sitting at the dining table. They either don’t know me or barely know me. All they know about me is that I’m someone who doesn’t talk much. Even when they ask him something, his answer is concise and not open for discussion.

In 2015, I published my novel. It was perhaps the second time I met all these people. I didn’t talk about the novel because why would I? People have better things to do than to listen stories about my novel, but the truth is that I was avoiding a single question:

“What’s it all about?”

One  doesn’t simply sit at a dining table, in front of unknown people and says:

“You know, it’s a novel about a color blind artist who crucified a priest and during the entire story we are exploring the motives and the cause for such an act and we wonder whose fault is it and could he really be blamed for what he did. Not only that he crucified the priest, but he… “

I can’t even say what he did, because it would be too much for this article, and not to mention a dining table. 

However, something like that is suitable for a novel; you can put anything in a novel, especially if you write one.

I don’t mention the novel. I’m determined. But, my wife speaks about it because I accomplished something as complex as writing and publishing a novel and she’s proud of me.

Then, she brings a couple of copies. People sit at the table and browse the book. They like the cover. It’s interesting. Bloody is written in green and green is written in red. They got the point. Someone is color blind. They want to buy it. I insist that they take the novel with them as a gift, but they refuse because they respect my work. I agree.

Now, I even less want to speak about the novel; I don’t want to spoil it. It’s just a mask. I hope that we’d never have a chance to talk about that novel. I really hope it’s like that.

Then we meet again. Not during the patron saint feast, and not all together, but some of them come to visit my parents-in-law while we are there too.

“We’ve read the novel,” they say.

I don’t even want to ask about their opinion. Not because I don’t care but because I’m afraid to hear it. They state it anyway, although I didn’t ask anything.

“We finished it in one day; during the weekend; or just quickly. It’s good. We couldn’t even guess that you write so well. You don’t talk much, but you sure have a lot to say.”

I nod and I thank them and I expect the obligatory question which I get from all of my readers, whether they personally know me or not. 

“Why does it have to be so dark? We mean, why didn’t you write about something more cheerful. There are so many pleasant topics. Life is dark by itself, you shouldn’t write about these morbid things.”

I shrug because I don’t know the answer and I wonder how fucked up I need to be able to write about these things. I feel uncomfortable, and so are they. Then, there is another question.

“Are you writing another one?”

I nod.

“Is it also dark?”

“Perhaps even darker.”

My interviewers retreat. They don’t ask when is it going to be finished because one simply doesn’t ask these kinds of questions.

It has been almost 10 years since I’ve started to write prose. I’ve only published one novel, but I’ve been learning a lot in the meantime. Writing a novel is a craft, a complex craft and one needs to spend a lot of time just to go through the basics of it.

I’ve started many novels during these years and they all ended up on a pile of forgotten stories, just where they belong. I will finish the second one, sooner or later, I know that now; I have that same feeling; the one I had when I was writing the first one; I knew that I would finish it.

Ten years have passed and I still don’t know why I write dark stories. Perhaps I’ll never know, but I have a theory.

This blog is a sort of psychotherapy. Once a day, I sit in front of my laptop or sometimes I take a pen and a paper, I turn off from the internet and I listen to my thoughts.

Something like that requires a complete silence, just as fiction writing does. I write fiction in the morning, while everybody else is asleep, and I write my blog during my daughter’s afternoon nap. The quality of the blog depends on the time she spends sleeping.

I sit and I start a conversation with myself. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this publically, but I dare to.

I listen to that voice, just as I would listen to another person; perhaps a friend who is complaining about something. That voice is always complaining. 

Sometimes, that voice tells me that everything I do is one big waste of time, but I don’t take it seriously. Long time ago, I’ve decided that it’s not right.

That voice is my subconscious. I know that most of the information we gather during the day can’t be consciously processed. Majority of information is processed by our subconscious mind and we can’t directly access them.  

These days, for example, that voice is often reminding me about that negative comment which I got from an anonymous person on the internet who decided to make my life miserable.

Anyway, when I hear what that voice has to say to me, I pay attention to the emotion caused by its speech. Sometimes I’m excited, self confident, and motivated. Most often, I’m terrified, worried and miserable.

Once I recognize the emotion, I try to explain to my conscious mind that everything is ok. I try to rationalize the causes of these emotions. I write them down and I often share my conclusions on this blog.

During one of these meditations, I realized that everybody has a good and a bad side. We can all do extremely good things, but we can also do the devilish job.

It’s much more difficult to be good than bad. Anyone can be bad. We don’t have to think much in order to be bad. We simply do whatever we want and we’ll probably end up doing something bad.

To be good, we need to convey to certain norms and rules. We need to care about the others, we need to predict in what manner will our actions influence them. It’s much more difficult than being bad. Luckily, in today’s world more people are often good than often bad.

There isn’t a single person who is 100% bad or 100% good. Even in myths, the archetypes of modern stories, the greatest villains have their bright side and the biggest heroes have their weak point.

Stories are one of the ways to explore and understand our behaviour. Life is too complex and indescribable. Therefore, we remember and tell stories. Good stories always explore the relationship between good and evil, and they resonate within us for a long time.

Take a look at Bible; the greatest story ever told. Look at the size of its reader’s club and the influence it has made on our culture and development.

What’s more interesting about the Bible is that all the stories in the Old Testament are extremely dark. They are filled with incest, murders, temptations, lust, natural disasters, evil and ill faiths, but that story, despite all darkness, resonates within us for thousands of years, like some kind of echo send to us by our ancestors.

Then, I started to wonder, what if I write these morbid stories so I could explore that dark side; my own and that of others? What if I seek to find out where the border of the evil lies? And, I believe that the answer is hiding right there.

I am able to express own malevolence on the pages of my stories and not to hurt anyone in particular.

Children are the best proof that humans have that bad side. The only place where you could find bullying is within children and mentally ill. Peer molesting never ceased to exist, and it’s more common among children than adults.

The younger the children are, the more violent they are. A child explores the boundaries of its behaviour while interacting with other human beings. It bites, kicks, scratches, pulls the hair. Parents’ job is to correct such behaviour.

Some parents fail at that job and aggression continues until adolescence. It’s more likely that you’re going to join a gang or any other aggressive group if you’re an adolescent. 

As time passes by, some of these people will become civilized, but most of them will stay immature adolescents in a full-grown human body.

Sometimes, evil expresses itself as a consequence of a life-changing event which demolishes the person’s entire value system. If something like that happens, all rules become irrelevant and the only working mechanism is survival and survival has no boundaries. 

Writing about these things, thinking about them and, after all, reading about them, enables us to explore that devilish side of ours and to recognize it once it appears.

It is much easier to stop the evil once we see its face and confront it than when it takes control over us.

Many people can’t explain why they killed someone in an act of anger. They say:

“I just flipped out”

That’s not far from the truth. A human being sometimes flips out, takes the gun or some other weapon, and kills his entire family. Once he realizes what he’s done, he takes his own life; he kills the evil in himself because if he was able to hurt the people whom he loved, who knows what he could do next?

There is nothing wrong with writing dark stories, just as reading them. Dark experiences of other people make us better and more ready to confront our own demons when they appear.