Friday, December 30, 2011


My mom woke me up this morning with "Amber, it's your week to post on Scribbler's Cove."

Somehow my not-awake brain turned that into "You have to pose for a book." Which didn't make any sense at all, and I tried to tell her that, but I think it came out as gibberish.

"What?" My mom asked.
"What?" I replied.
"It's your week to post on Scribbler's cove. You have to do it today or tomorrow."
Now, that made much, much more sense. So, I got out of bed, grabbed a composition notebook and started brainstorming.

Recently, my mom has been a little worried about me because the story I'm writing right now is really dark. And she is of the firm belief that the world has enough darkness already.

This is a big issue. It's true that there's plenty of darkness in the world, and it's true that the world could use a little more light.

So, the question is: Do we need darkness in our stories? And how much?

First, I wrote down some things in stories that give it darkness. I came up with six big ones.


None of these things are good. Yet just about all of us experience every single one. Part of writing is to teach people about the world in terms they can more easily understand. We show them different worlds that follow some of the same rules as ours, and people who are caricatures of real people. We can't create a very believable world without darkness.

So, you definitely need some darkness in any story. But how much darkness is too much? Some people have more darkness in their lives than others. Do those people need darker stories, or lighter ones?

Stories with a lot of darkness in them often leave the reader feeling miserable. A reader, in some ways, experiences everything the characters do. It's our decision as writers, how much darkness we want our readers to feel.

I know multiple people who would argue for putting as little darkness as possible in stories. Even a little bit of well-done darkness can give depth to a story. Stories can be wonderful without being dark. So, I thought of things that make a story light.


A much friendlier list. I've read many great stories that have a disproportionately large light side. I admire them, and people who can write them. But I do like darker stories as well and I think we'd be lacking something important if we didn't have them.

As I brainstormed, one of my questions was 'Should you try for as little darkness as possible?' It looked to me like the answer was 'yes' but I felt like I was missing something. So, I tried to think of an example of a dark book that didn't make me feel like crawling into a corner and dying.

It took me about ten seconds. The Hunger Games. I'm just talking about the first book. It introduces you to likeable characters and then tosses them into a truly horrible situation where it's kill or be killed and there's no hope of avoiding my entire list of things that make a book dark. The idea behind the Hunger Games is that the government is forcing kids to kill each other and then showing it on TV. That is incredibly dark. But so many people love that book. I love that book. Why? At the end of the story, the main characters are permanently damaged, and the world is NOT fixed. In fact, you know things are going to get even worse. So, why does that book feel satisfying at the end?

I think it doesn't have anything to do with what happened. I think it has everything to do with why.

Katniss went through so much darkness but she went through it of her own decision. Not because she wanted to, of course, but to save someone she cared about.

that makes all the difference.

Darkness for the sake of Darkness alone is wrong. There are people who want that. There are people who will buy that. But it's not good for anyone.

However, many of the most powerful stories, whether they're true or only fantasy have a whole lot of darkness in them. The characters in those stories go through things that seem impossibly hard. But they go through them. Because they're doing it for a reason. And it's worth it.

So, I guess the answer is that pointless darkness should be avoided, but darkness, if used right, makes for the very best stories.

And those are the stories we want to tell.


  1. I am a firm believer that without the darkness you can't appreciate the light. Your post made me think back to this musical production my brother was in called The Garden. It's an allegorical musical, and my brother was portraying the character of Satan. The entire production is very moving and inspiring, and he was really struggling with how he could portray this character without bringing the whole thing down into a dark place. Afterward, I told him that I felt like he gave it just the touch of darkness that it needed for the audience to truly appreciate the lightness to come- really, it was the whole "it's always darkest before the dawn" thing. I think that each reader has their own "darkness threshold" and that each author has the artistic right to find their own balance that they believe is true to the story they're trying to tell. If it's not one reader's cup of tea, then that's okay too (like me- McCarthy's The Road was tooooo much darkness for me).

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  2. In art, it takes darkness to truly show the light. Some old masters, like Rembrandt and Caravaggio were famous for a technique called Chiarascuro, where most of the painting was dark, but the focus of the painting was clearly highlighted and became mesmerizing. I think it's the same with books - and the darkness/conflict is well used if it highlights the good. I agree with Kasey. The amount of darkness each person tolerates or likes is completely individual. Personally, if a book makes me suffer, the end better be worth it, and I do need some 'happy' rewards along the way.

    Best of luck finding your balance. I know you will.

  3. Great thoughts, Amber. Thanks for posting today!

    I think what makes Katniss such a strong heorine in the first "Hunger Games" book is that she is surrounded by darkness but does not give in to that darkness. She does not become darkness herself. And the greater a darkness your character has to fight, the more triumph when she doesn't give in.

    I like what you said about chiarascuro, Jonene. Have you read "The Tale of Despereaux?"

  4. Rebecca, no, I haven't read it - not yet anyway. I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.

  5. There's a character in the book named Chairascuro, and the author explores this theme of light, darkness, and stories very much. It is a good book, and a beautiful read-aloud. You should check it out for your next audio book.

  6. I remember growing up and reading The Wizard Of Earthsea for the first time. That book was powerful to me because for some reason in my sheltered life I'd never really understood that darkness and all its associates were real--but when Ged ran into that darkness and it was real, and tangible, and powerful, it impacted me.

    I learned that it's not a good plan to seek it out, but it's a great plan to be aware of it, respect it, and guard yourself against it. And I learned this through a fictional character, as he learned it.

    I'm sure I would have grapsed this as I grew in real life, but it probably would have been painful. (Learning in real life is almost always painful for me.Sheesh.) I'm grateful I got this one in a safe--even entertaining--way.

    Now, The Wizard Of Earthsea isn't a dark book, but it has darkness in it. Darkness has it's place. A hero can't be a hero without and antagonist. And like Ged, we all have evil within us. Learning to confront it and triumph over it is a good thing.


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