Dark Night of the Soul   10 comments

What was your hardest scene to write?


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I don’t write comedy (except occasionally, satire), so my characters are often struggling with damage, flirting with an abyss while struggling with the escalating tension of their unmet desires, wants and needs.

The intermediary step where they still see some light can be a challenging construction – showing Shane fighting for his community, trying to keep moving, all the while carrying around a “dead body” of guilt that seeks to drag him into the darkness. Showing him as functional but damaged is a balancing act, but not the hardest scenes to write.

The ones I hesitate over writing are the dark nights of the soul when the character reaches a place where no light can enter and they don’t even have a glimmer of hope for the future. That’s a painful place for anyone to be and conveying that strains my skills. I’ve walked through my own dark nights and come out the other side into the misty sunlight of promised redemption and therein lies the struggle for writing such fictional scenes. I know there’s light beyond the darkness. If a dark night catches up to me these days, I know there is hope on the other side. I instinctively want my characters to know it too. And, yet, they can’t know it because they’re not clairvoyant and when you’re young, you don’t have a catalog of life experiences that inform you the darkness is merely temporary.

Shane can’t feel that there is hope because he’s descending into darkness and it’s all he can see and I have to dwell with him in that terrifying place for however long it takes for him to get through it. †

As a character-driven writer, I allow my characters to tell me their story – not just the events, but their emotions and motivations. Shane is a reluctant informant. He doesn’t like talking about his damage. He doesn’t like me invading his privacy. He would rather I just hint instead of writing when he loses another piece of his soul. Readers can guess at what happened. He doesn’t need to be devoured for my art.

Of course, that’s a cop-out. I probably have some PTSD from my own dark nights. I need to walk through them with Shane so that the readers can sympathize, even empathize, with his pain. And I need to write Shane as not anticipating light, even as I know there is light just beyond what he can see.

One reason I write from multiple points-of-view is that sometimes one character will refuse to share the gory details, but another character can observe their agony and that takes away some of the sting. It also gives the reader a little buffer from the turmoil of the damaged character. There are emotions readers (and authors) don’t want to experience. Of course, we want the reader to empathize with our characters because that creates a bond between the character and the reader – a feeling that the reader is part of the story.

So what is the hardest scene I’ve written? That’s a hard question to answer because they stop being hard after I write them and I choose not to hang onto past resentments. Apparently, that personal ethic influences me as a writer as well. Writing a tough scene is like jumping into an icy Alaska river – it takes your breath away and you’re pretty sure you going to die, and then you recover and swim to the shore and it quits being a death-defying feat. It becomes a pleasant (if painful) memory where I overcame the cruel Alaska wilderness – a source for funny stories. So I frankly don’t remember the struggle because I overcame and it’s time to move on. Still, I can guess at which scenes stressed me out while writing them.

Frankly, if I’m honest, the hardest scenes for me to write are plotted, but not written yet. Shane is entering his pivotal crisis of the series. (The series has an ensemble cast, so it may not be THE pivotal crisis of the series). The book that publishes this fall will have some hard scenes in it, but the next book — that’s going to be like giving birth. I’m also working on the yet-unpublished “What If … Wasn’t.” Peter is a young man being released from prison after serving a manslaughter sentence for killing someone he loved. He’s not as dark and morose as Shane can be, but he’s got some horrible memories to live with and, it is a challenge to show that he hasn’t been defeated by his past, but that he walks a fine line between self-hate that could lead to suicide and hope for a future few people want him to have. And for me, as always, is the recognition that while I, the “deity” of this fictional world, know there’s hope — the character and the reader don’t.

10 responses to “Dark Night of the Soul

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  1. Another interesting peep into you writing process.


  2. Great insights, especially the bit about the things you haven’t written yet.


    • I know what’s coming up in the series and I know they’re going to be hard scenes. I originally thought they would hit in the 3rd book, but Shane’s family and town turned out to be a lot more interesting than I originally thought they would be — interesting enough that, were he to die, I could finish the series without him. If you’re going to go dark, you have to be willing to really explore the back of the cave.


  3. One thing about writing in middle age, is that we’ve a lot of experiences to draw from…


  4. If you write from the characters darkest points and surviving, you may just be the voice that the reader needs to get past their own darkness.


  5. I love cold swimming. I’ve gotten the kids to go a couple of times, as they were young enough to still be adventurous. Good post!

    Liked by 1 person

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