Thursday, July 23, 2009

Whistling in the Dark

By Kelli "How dark is too dark?"

No one is actually afraid of the dark. The dark itself can't hurt you ...

No, what makes us dive for a flashlight and jump at household noises is the awareness of things that hide in the dark.

Hiding, too, makes us uncomfortable. Outside of the childhood game -- and when you think about it, hide-and-seek is kind of a sinister early training for survival -- human beings don't hide unless we're either predator ... or prey.

The dark makes us hyper aware of our vulnerability. Our mortality. And we look for what may be hiding from us, not in fear, but in intention.

So when we talk about "dark", what are we really saying? Fear. Fear of death, pain, loss. The strongest, most common impulse that unites human beings--at least the sane ones--on the planet.

I don't think of violence or any single criminal act as "dark" writing. For me, darkness is hitting those unspoken fears, of flirting with our demons, sometimes even sleeping with them.

It's going to the dark places of the mind, the shadowed corners of the soul. It's teasing out the heartbeat of a perverse thrill, a peep show for the reader into motivations that may be more disturbing than actual deeds.

Now, all that said: I really loathe gratuitous violence. Casual murder. Unexpressed and glossed over agony. And there are certain things that I just can't write about.

I once threw a book across the room because it featured a particularly gruesome death of a child, and the act was handled with all the subtlety and sensitivity of a hockey puck. To me, that's mind pollution.

I feel that my duty as a writer--particularly as a crime fiction writer--is to make every death matter. Every crime matter.

Every loss hurts, every act of contrition or confession seems inadequate. I experience the pain with my characters, and recreating it leaves a scar.

Go figure. When I was a Drama major, I always preferred to act in tragedies, though I loved to watch comedies. I read a lot of different types of books, but what I'm wedded to as a writer lives in the darker levels of humanity. I don't want anyone's pain forgotten.

I guess that's why I'm a noir writer. Through pain--through our universal fear of the dark--we come closer together as human beings. We resonate, empathize. Even find redemption.

And maybe, if we get close enough, we'll figure out how to keep each other safe from what's out there ... lurking in the dark.


Jen said...

I feel like Gregg Hurwitz's cheering squad because here I go again siting him. In TROUBLESHOOTER Rackley's wife Dre repeatedly says, "everyone matters." How true is that?

But Kelli, what I couldn't help thinking as you were talking about the "dark" is how much more scary it is with that blasted music they always play in the movies. If it weren't for that music you wouldn't jump nearly as high out of your seats when the feared person, creature, whatever jumps out...or when the door slams...or dog know! ;)

This topic is fun!! :)

Kelli Stanley said...

Jen, m' dear, thanks for commenting, and please--quote Gregg whenever possible--he's AWESOME!! :)

And you're so right about the music. I think that the best film scores echo the psychological overtones of the scenes or characters ... the music amplifies what the characters are feeling.

But ... if you've ever been alone at night in a quiet house, it's the stillness that worries us, makes us fret. And at the same time, turning on the TV or music doesn't seem right ... because what if we can't hear what's waiting for us?

Thanks again, sweetie, for the comment--and btw, it's Raymond Chandler's birthday today! :)



R.J. Mangahas said...

I agree with you Kelli. I like your definition of dark I REALLY can't stand violence just for the sake of it or the shock value. Which is why I'll NEVER watch those stupid Saw movies.

In general, when I write stuff, if there's violence, I try to give it a purpose. The reason may be petty to some, but it is at least justified in the character's mind.

Speaking of drama and connecting with characters, I went to a rather "dark" place while auditioning for Neil Simon's Chapter Two. I was trying for the role of George and I was auditioned with the monologue where he was talking about the death of his wife. I just kept picturing Anne, my fiancee who had died, during the monologue. I have to tell you, I felt emotionally drained after that. Unfortunately, I didn't get the part. Oh well. Such is the theater. :)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Love the new photo, Kelli!

Your post was wonderful. You said exactly everything I wanted to say. Beautifully expressed, as always.

Death. Matters. Always.

Kelli Stanley said...

R.J., my friend, good to see you on Chandler's birthday! :) Thanks for stopping by!

And don't feel badly about the audition--acting is brutal. Much more devastating than writing. I'm proud of you for going for it, and it sounds like you really connected to a deep place with your character.

Loss is unfortunately the price we pay for living ... and I think our goal is to be able to say, at the end, that it was all worth it. :)

Take care, and can't wait to see you in Indy!


Kelli Stanley said...

Beckster!! :)

Are you back home, or still lighting up Broadway?? And when are you going to post those pics from Pantless Monday, huh?? ;)

Thanks for the comment, Babe--I'm kind of having fun with the new photos--my photographer took so many there's one for every mood. :)

Wherever you are, raise a glass to Chandler today ... he made readers acutely aware of both pain and loss, in a lyrically hardboiled style forever unequaled.


Shane Gericke said...

Lovely post as usual, Kelli. If violence serves a purpose in a story or entertainment, by all means, bring it on. If not, it's just a slasher movie and makes me impatient. When we kill, it should be for very good reasons. To do less is to dishonor the real dead in our world.

Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, darlin', I couldn't agree more ... death is permanent (Sherlock Holmes notwithstanding). Before we commit (literary) murder, there's gotta be a reason for it.

Could be a madman's reason, but still ... it's a reason. :)