Writing a Character's Dark Side

by Dena

Question: I have found myself getting into a character that is coming from a really dark place. When writing a story one wants to keep one's readers interested. Do you think getting into that dark, dark place is wise? I don't want to turn off my reader but at the same time I want the reader to get close to the character and feel the success of overcoming this dark place. What do you suggest should I sugar coat this dark dark place?

Answer: There's nothing wrong with going into a dark place, as long as you do so honestly and authentically. The examples of successful books that do that are legion.

Many readers enjoy the chance to explore the dark side of the human soul voyeuristically. And even if you don't publish them, such explorations of the dark side can help you be a better writer. No subject matter is forbidden to an artist.

If this is a story of redemption or of someone who overcomes his dark side, then playing down the darkness might also reduce the value of the redemption. It's more heroic to pull oneself out of a deep hole than a shallow one.

Two mild caveats:

1. Remember your audience. If you're writing for children, for example, there's a limit on how lurid you can get. Maybe aim for late teen to adult readers? Also, deep explorations of character are enjoyed far more by readers of literary fiction than genre fiction.

2. Don't get lost in your character explorations. Remember to tell a story.

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