Perry and I have been doodling together with the writing prompts I’ve been posting here on the board (you can typically find both of our entries in the comments for them).
In doing so, we’ve found some really interesting parallels in our writing. Our stories tend to be similar in tone or content, even with just a few scant sentences as a seed.
My theory is that this is because we both have a similar sense of “twist” but that’s not why we are here.
We’re here because we both agreed that some prompts WANTED to lead both of us down the path of grimdark.
And we both let it … but my stories tended to end with hope and brightness.
Maybe not a fairy tale Happily Ever After, but the sort of ending that I require in stories that I like to read.
(Both Perry and Faith can attest that I have a very low grimdark threshold)
He asked me how I did it, and until that point I’d never really thought of it, but the conversation has stuck in my head since then.
Where to End It
The answer was simple.
I push past the bad until I find the good on the other side of it.
You cannot have a story without the bad, and the most impactful stories often have very very bad indeed. I remember reading the Arrows of Valdemar series and just absolutely sobbing at the third book — and yet it has remained one of my all-time favorites. Not because it ignored the bad, but rather because it acknowledged the bad unflinchingly and promised light on the other side.
I’ve been listening to the elemental genre episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast and I had a related epiphany.
Horror ends in that grimdark most of the time. It takes you on a journey, stares into the eyes of gut-twisting dread, then leaves you there.
The stories that I write will look past that horrible and thus end up more likely being adventure with a sprinkling of mystery or romance.
SPOILERS AHOY – The Midnight Meat Train by Clive Barker.
A horror story such as The Midnight Meat Train follows a detective as he chases down a serial killer in the subways and just as he succeeds in that goal, he learns that the killer has been feeding horrible monsters that live beneath the earth, and now he either needs to continue feeding them or see the world befall a far worse fate.
The story DROPS you there, with that (wonderful, incredible) horrible twist. That feeling of something bad not only happening, but being worse than it was before.
Not all Horror follows this pattern, of course, but it is a common theme to see that the heroes do not, in fact, succeed in staving off the bad.
My story set in this world would probably take place AFTER the monsters irreparably damaged the world. Perhaps humanity has splintered off into post-apocalyptic tribes and our heroes trudge forth to defeat a monster. Or heck, maybe not defeat them at all, and simply have them as A Thing In The Background.
It doesn’t really matter where I would write it — the difference is that the horror story ends on a stunning note … which is not where I would end my story.
No “Happily Ever After” stays that way in my mind. The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.
But in stories? I want to stop it at a point where the reader feels good about what has happened. Maybe not all of it, and hopefully it ended with events that surprise the reader, but I intend to evoke a solid, good feeling.
I think this whole thing is rather magical.
You, the writer, are deciding SO much about the story that you’re writing.
What you focus on, what language you use, and where you end it can determine everything from tone to freaking genre.
The same story in the hands of different authors has the potential to be almost indistinguishable.
And that is awesome. It makes me feel powerful.
And I hope it makes you feel powerful too. <3