Every time someone asks me to describe my current WIP, the first thing I say is, “it’s not a nice story.” What I mean by that is, if it’s published, I don’t think I’ll be invited to speak at book clubs.
So what makes it a not so nice story? I thought about this, and I realized something in the process of doing so. Here is how that thought process went when I asked myself the following questions.
Am I writing about:
- Incest? No.
- Torture? No. Well, hold up a minute. There is one scene in the beginning where my antagonist takes his sweet time to murder a couple of people. They realize the end is coming, so yeah, that could be torturous.
- Pedophilia? No.
- Necrophilia? No.
- A plan gone horribly wrong, that ultimately ends up with people being killed and put into a wood chipper? (FARGO) No.
- A serial killer who, after killing his victims, eats them? (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) No.
After listing out the above, and considering this is a very limited list of horror we’ve heard or read about, it came to me…, maybe my story isn’t as bad as it could be. The deeper I got into it, the more I realized, maybe my brain can only grasp so much grotesque, squeamish, dastardly things to possibly stuff into this book. Maybe it’s just not in my psyche to go that dark and deep.
So what then, makes my story not so nice? Good question.
I suppose it’s the fact it’s so different from the first two manuscripts – which weren’t fluffy, syrupy sweet reads, by any means, but they weren’t like this one either. However, when thinking about how sick and twisted other stories have been, it really does makes mine seem sort of… mediocre. Mediocre is not what I’m shooting for, but at the same time, I have to consider the shock factor, which is sort of like dipping your toes in water to test the temperature. It’s about finding the right balance – and knowing when to use it.
This is an important point. A writer can’t get down and dirty if it doesn’t make sense to the story, if it doesn’t come about organically, because of what has happened. I can’t simply throw in horrific, nonsensical events for the sake of making a reader cringe, squirm, feel nauseous. They will know because there must be reasons for why something happens – or not, or why somebody does something – or not.
For example, I had my bad guy do something in an earlier version of this manuscript. I wrote it in thinking, oooh yeah, this is totally sick – and twisted. What was he trying to do? Purposefully hit a stray dog who was at the side of the road, eating roadkill, which to me is about as heinous a crime as there ever was. Except, he had no reason to hit poor old Sambone. Mr. Bad Guy just committed a crime, murdering two people. We already know he’s reeeaaaalllly baaaaadddd. What would have been the point? Did he have a thing against animals? Did he hate dogs? Had a dog done something to him as a kid? In truth, it might have shown you not only was he a murderer, but he was a real ass. But it wasn’t really necessary.
My CP called me out on this, and said, “I know what you’re trying to do here, but it’s not working.”
Oops. Too much? Probably. I was happy to go off and rescue Sambone, let him live to find his way into another story one day.
Since then, I’ve been trying to keep the writing in check. I’ve tried not to get too gory, too bloody, too crazy, just for the sake of shocking a reader. I’ve tried to make sure actions taken or words spoken, all make sense and fit in. What I want is for the story to be realistic and believable, frosted with nail biting tension.
How do you find the right balance for the dark and twisted components in your story? What’s your secret?