Light and Dark Writing

I have many photos waiting for the light of blog.

I have many opinions, too, about all sorts of things. Practically on an hourly basis, I read or see something that sparks me wanting to say (write) something.  Plus, you know, the airwaves and interweb are filled with opinions about this or that thing. It’s obvious to me The World wants my thoughts added to the fray. Why wouldn’t it? Occasionally, they’re even good thoughts (in my opinion).

In fact, I have engaged in a few discussions, but I don’t deem it time yet for me to explore any of the topics here on my blog.

Sure, it will happen, but not today. Today, I write about writing. Yes, yes, I’ve written much about writing, all of it unsolicited and lacking the foundation of any credentials worth spit.

Well, here’s more.

Recently, I got into a brief conversation about Light and Dark writing. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure Light writing was defined. Dark writing was defined HERE, so perhaps Light stories are stories that are not any of those.

I listened to the podcast associated with the discussion, and I don’t agree with some of the examples. I’m not familiar with the other examples listed so I’ll have to look them up. I also disagree with the premise that Light stories sell. Maybe in YA, but I don’t see evidence of it in adult fiction (adult as in grown up and not as in bow chicka bow wow). 

I certainly don’t agree with classifying the first book of Pullman’s series — the Golden Compass — as Light although all agreed on the subsequent books going Dark. I had bought the entire series based on the expectation set forth in the first book. I didn’t even finish the second book.

Pratchett’s Discworld series was given as another example of Light, but I tried reading it before and quickly lost interest. Not because it was Dark, but because I didn’t like the style of writing. I’ll have to dip my toes in those waters once more since many people rave about it.

I was surprised no one mentioned Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe six books trilogy as an example of Light. I think the Dirk Gently series also qualifies. Are they no longer of interest to modern readers?

For that matter, and here I date myself, something like The Flying Sorcerers by Gerrold and Niven.

I don’t see things along those veins in today’s offerings of either short stories or longer books. If they’re out there, they’re not coming under my radar. What I’m reading don’t even come close to matching the cleverness of those books.

It’s often easier talking about movies than books as there’s a good chance more people heard of a given movie than of a given book. Note that the podcast focuses more on science fiction and fantasy as opposed to literary genres, probably because literary works suck the joy out of everything.

If we’re talking movies, Galaxy Quest and Big Trouble in Little China come to mind, and I wouldn’t call either “recent.” Galaxy Quest was eighteen years ago and BTiLC clocks in as thirty-one years old. Neither movie was mentioned.

Instead, someone mentioned the Marvel movies, and that’s interesting because it speaks to the classification of Light. I call those action movies and while somewhat enjoyable, in their case light refers more to the plot than a thematic description. In fact, I think as comic books adaptations, they deserve their own classification because I can’t take them seriously even when tragic things happen . . . mostly because they are ultra-contrived. Tragic things do happen in those movies but are glossed over because the costumes are so cool.

That then brings up the question of the role of humor in the classification of Light and Dark. There are dark comedies that I suppose can be classified as Light. I assume humor might be a prerequisite for Light because drama — regardless of eventual outcome — brings a measure of discomfort to the reader/viewer and would thus be classified as Dark, at least in my book. If, of course, I had a book and if I wrote down classifications of Light and Dark.   

I think I know why there are few Light books and movies . . . it’s difficult to execute smart and funny. Movies default to slapstick and stupidity as a substitute for clever and funny, and books have a tougher time executing the lowest common denominator of today’s visual comedies but they try.

Cleverness. I think that should be one of the requisites for Light writing. Cleverness that lifts the corners of your mouth in an involuntary but well-deserved smile.

Someone commented — and thus implicitly agreed that light books are in short supply  — that the “. . . reason why dark stories are appreciated over lighter stories is that dark stories tend to be more memorable than light stories because they draw on more emotions . . .”

Emotions are where I hang my hat, and those vary with the individual. I think the person is saying that dark and negative emotions leave more of a mark. Maybe, but while cutting myself will leave a memorable scar, I still don’t want to cut myself. 

Hitman to me is not dark despite the body count. Up to me is dark because of the opening chapter of the movie.

** SPOILERS AHEAD **

Hitman is a thrill/action ride that does not engage my emotions for any of the people who are casually killed by the (dark) hero; people who aren’t doing anything wrong and are not bad guys per se. That’s helped by the fact that unless obviously bad, the people being killed wear masks and thus are further distanced from the idea they are humans, husbands, fathers, friends and have lives outside being sacrificial fodder for the action scenes. If I think about it a bit, those guys that get killed are only doing their job. But, I don’t think about it. I’ve watched Hitman multiple times.

On the other hand, we’ve watched Up exactly once and will not watch it again. That’s because the movie spends the first 15 minutes introducing a vivacious and by all rights wonderful human being . . . and then they kill her off. It wasn’t even about her dying . . . it’s about the fact that it was not a meaningful death. She was just the catalyst for the premise of the movie. Well, screw that, Pixar.

That’s not to say that I don’t do emotions. Some people say I do alright. Personally, I think I do them very well . . . but since I’m the writer, I know exactly what emotions I’m going for, so I always get the desired response when I read my stuff.  

I also know how far I can go before I no longer enjoy the story.

While it’s true that people’s limits differ based on personal experience and other influences in their lives, my own threshold (limit) for darkness seems to fall well short of that of many people, but only in specific areas.

For instance, when it comes to killing, I’m not particularly averse to it. Let me stress — lest I get reported to authorities — I’m referring to movies and books.

I asked one of the Mythcreant hosts if they considered Jim Butcher’s Dresden series Dark or Light. This was the answer:

“Over all {sic} I’d say Dresden is on the darker side, but not super dark. It’s got a lot of brutal murders described to make them seem brutal, and there are enough permanent consequences for characters, not to mention character death, to make it darker.”

I don’t agree because when brutal murders are mentioned or described, they’re not viscerally descriptive.

Except for one character I can think of, we don’t see characters with multi-books arcs die in the Dresden universe. Within individual stories, we might see situational characters die (often, their murder has to be solved), meaning characters that are introduced and then killed off.

There’s an interesting dynamic in the books where the readers themselves are not forced to feel a whole lot about their actual deaths but that’s not the same for Dresden; he carries the guilt and responsibility of their death like a mantle and it’s what often motivates his resolve.

But, if the metric for Light and Dark is character death — or even gruesome character death — then Lopan getting a big ole knife embedded in his forehead rates Big Trouble in Little China as Dark, and that’s not even mentioning all the minions who die. One of them even inflates and pops like a balloon. Gruesome.

Again, the question of Light and Dark for me goes more to the anguish I’m made to feel as a reader or, in the case of movies, spectator.

The Incredibles is a comedy but guards are killed with impunity. The audience has no emotional connection to them. How different would it be if after a guard is killed a little kid runs up to the body yelling “Daddy, daddy! Don’t leave me!”

That would humanize the guard, even if up to that point he acted as evil incarnate. All of a sudden, we would have a personal connection. Personal loss is a feeling we all recognize either for having it experienced or feared as a possibility.

People might notice that in my writing there’s no ambiguity about the people getting killed. The world is better off without them.

By my count, I’ve written exactly one dark story; it was disturbing to write and more so to read. It’s not going to see the light of blog.

Some might classify my Torin story as dark. That reminds me; that story sets up a much longer story arc that I should get back to . . . so many ideas, so little time.

The Fall of Angels is another story with elements of darkness (for anyone who’s read it, that’s a pun). And yet, like the Dresden stories, the dark themes don’t stick with you once you get done reading it. The story should leave you contemplating the totality of it as opposed to specific elements.

Contrast that with many of the books and short stories I’ve read in the last two years. They’re not so much an adventure I take with the protagonist as it’s the authors dragging my ass across bleak worlds with bleak people suffering the bleakness so that we can be given a message . . . apparently, the message is “the world is bleak.”

At the beginning of each month, Amazon Prime members get to pick a free e-book to read. About half of the months, I can’t find anything that interests me. Let me give you October’s selections (HERE). So, what do we have?

An exploration of race and forgiveness, a legal thriller about an extradition lawyer (book 1 of a series), a suspense about something that sounds ultra-contrived, a fantasy about yet another prophecy involving someone who will be the key to this or that thing based on predetermined destiny which is also the first book of a series (see my take on that theme HERE, “An Ordinary Hero”), a historical fiction book about Nazis based on true events (those two qualifiers annoy me; fiction about truth), and a family drama set in Greece.  

I don’t particularly like epic sagas that span many books. I’ve seen few done well, and two, in particular, made me lose my patience with sagas in general. One was Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, and the other was Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (a. k. a. the white gold wielder). Those two near interminable series weaned me out of starting new series. By the way, I didn’t finish either of those as the seemingly looping plots got tedious and annoying and did the opposite of engaging me.

I had picked another legal thriller in a previous month, and it basically reinforced my perhaps unjustified view of lawyers. A view that is reinforced by watching the news rather than dispelled by reading accounts of actual lawyers doing lawyerly things.

The story about the feral girl and how she sets about destroying a family is a big incentive to immerse in the misery of it all . . . NOT!

The other two are dramas and thank you but, no.

No free book for me this month.   

So, what will I read? Probably, some of my stuff. In part, because I want to write a sequel — or prequel — to THIS story for this coming Halloween. Also, still looking at my NaNoWriMo 3 novel with an eye to sending it out into the world.

This year I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, but I don’t know if I’ll be doing a series of short stories or writing a novel. I’m leaning toward the short stories because I feel that’s what I should be focusing on as the better chance of getting published. Plus, I have ideas competing for attention in different genres; science fiction, fantasy, and something along the lines of NaNoWriMo 3, if not a direct sequel to it. One thing that keeps intruding into my awareness is THIS story. I like the characters, and in time of quiet reflection (or boredom), I see traces of a plot stretch before me. This could be a saga, but if I do follow up on it, it will be a self-contained book.

I also think I need to finish my First Novel before embarking on a new long-form effort.

Anyway, I just crossed two thousand words which apparently is more than enough to earn me a TLDR rating.

Wait, so what is my definition of Light? The short answer is that Light is anything that I both enjoy reading and want to read again. By that definition, 99.9% of the fiction I write is Light. The long answer? Well, that requires the examination of the elements of a given story.

It should be noted that since I increased the amount of reading I do (post-Viable Paradise XIX), there haven’t been any books or stories that I feel like re-reading. What does that mean?

. . . I’m either imbued with an incredible ego regarding my own work OR, what’s being published these days lacks the elements that trigger my sense of being transported somewhere I’d like to be in real life, meet characters I’d like to meet in real life, or shown a world I’d like to be real instead of the one we have to deal with. The key word is escape, and you cannot call it an escape if it’s no more than a poor reflection of this world.  

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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. . .  my FP ward  . . . chieken shit.

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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
This entry was posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Musings Stuff, Opinion, Personal, Writing, Writing Stuff and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Light and Dark Writing

  1. My definition of a light movie is one that I can watch again as soon as the end credits have stopped running.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know what that means.
    I have a list of favorite books and movies that I’ll reread and rewatch. But it’s a fairly short list.
    They are books and movies that have significance to me…they are not always about a light or easy subjects, but they are important to me so I like to bring them back into my life again and again.
    I hope you and Melisa had a great weekend!
    (((HUGS)))

    Like

    • disperser says:

      We had a nice weekend, and I hope yours was as well.

      As for “I don’t know what that means” . . . I get that people watch different things for different experiences. Different emotions engage different people differently (wow . . . is that deep or what?)

      Seriously, I get that some people want to “feel” and they want their feelings engaged on a wide range, from happy all the way to sad. For some, terror or suspense fill their emotional needs. It sounds as if you’re linking particular books with events in your life, or maybe personal epiphanies.

      For me, it’s always “escape.” There is no transformative or significant book or movie that altered my life. A few (Local Hero is one) crystalized some thoughts I already had, but always, movies and books were escapes from my surroundings. They did not change anything. They did not motivate. They only gave a bit of respite from the reality of the world we live on.

      When a watch a movie or read a book, I don’t want to feel anxious, sad, or any emotions that will damage my calm. That’s what the news is for. I mean, yes, a little conflict, but even there, strict rules about limits.

      That because by “escape,” I mean that all the bad of this reality is for a short while forgotten, and by definition, anything involving drama, suffering, melancholy, struggles, and especially anything where the end result is not ATLHEA, generally gets a pass as far as multiple viewings. I can’t think of any movie that I would watch multiple times that doesn’t meet those criteria.

      You know that question about if you could take only one movie on a desert island (with a DVD player and a TV) which would it be?

      Joe Versus the Volcano. No hesitation. Not only for the story and the way it’s told, but also for the message and the music.

      As for books, probably my three novels and a bunch of my short stories. That’s not ego; it’s knowing what I like and having written it. If I couldn’t take those, probably a few of the Old Men War books (not the last) or the Dresden Files, but I could just as easily go to a number of older SF books because they are all about escape from this world. Some of Heinlein’s early work, Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny . . . I should do a post about books that I would re-read. They are all books that deal with the triumph of the human spirit, human individuality, human ingenuity, and human determination. They are books about optimism. That’s the word . . . optimism.

      Liked by 1 person

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