The Dark Room

Opening of the cave of Debliške Livade in Koče...

Opening of the cave of Debliške Livade in Kočevski Rog (Slovenia) at the site of mass murder of Slovenian domobrans, Ustasha and Chetniks by Jugoslav partisans after WWII (May and June 1945). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope you didn’t look here to see a post about photography. I’m not sure if dark rooms even exist anymore. For developing film, anyway.

But they do exist.

Writers often hear the mantra: “Write your passion!” More often, it’s compressed into a more digestible idea: “Write what you know.”  Now let me ask you, how could any horror writer possibly adhere to that concept? I can think of no horror writers who are personally experts in mass murder, or becoming werewolves. And more than that, who could be passionate about psycho killers, and possessed children? Certainly not me.

And yet, my first frightening, and disturbing, novel is complete, and my second is well underway.

I sometimes feel like the accidental horror writer. In life, I’m a regular guy (well, almost). I like puppies, sit-coms, french fries and Disney movies. But when I sit down to write, I often find myself writing things that leave me unable to sleep.

I would suggest a different manta for writers. “Write what comes out.” Sure, there are several very successful authors that write what I would call “format novels.” Commercial fiction – Thriller, Horror, Sci-Fi, Romance – all of it adheres to certain themes and structure accepted in the genre. I love them all, but sometimes people think that to write it well, you have to follow a predictable plot outline. Some people have made that work, but the really good ones do more.

I think what is inside you is what will come out on the page, if you let it. That doesn’t mean that a romance writer has to be a virgin with a thorough knowledge of the Marquis de Sade, nor does it mean a horror writer has to be a serial killer. But there are things that come from somewhere deep inside, from a dark room, that give meaning to your words that is greater than the activities on the page, if you let them.

Horror for me seems to be a way to confront those things that are too terrible to confront in life – suffering, pain, death. I’ve known them all, up close and personal. If I told you how it really happened, you might not want to hear me. But when I re-read my stories, I see my experiences disguised in every character, in every conflict, and in every nightmare. And I sure didn’t plan on writing about those personal things, not ever. It just has a way of coming out, and sneaking on to the page.

Every story has the potential to be that way. But if a writer misinterprets “writing what you know” as “write what you know about,” nothing that matters will come out on the page. You have to write what you know, deep inside you, in places you don’t realize are there. You have to write who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what you love, what you fear, and what it all means to you. And you have to do that while telling a story of child wizards, or dragons, or a zombie with a hatchet.

To write what you know, you really have to get out of the way and let your voice come out. Some people call it a muse, others call it instinct, and still others call it your subconscious mind. I don’t call it anything, except whatever is down there in that dark room. You just write for that “whatever it is,” and it will take care of the rest.


11 thoughts on “The Dark Room

  1. So very well put. I just knew I’d write horror as it was all I’d read – demons, ghosts, witches, etc. But what happened? Chick-Lit but without the dashing hero who rides in to “rescue” the heroine from her drab social life or whatever the tropes these days are. There is darkness in all of us. I see writing as a way to positively release it so we can avoid becoming experts at mass murders and such. Keep up the good work :-), and when will we be able to purchase your books?

    • Thanks for your confirmation of my thesis. 🙂 As far as book, I’d love to be able to tell you. I’ve had great reviews from many (not friends and family) but so far no bites on the professional end. I’m still fishing though, if that’s an appropriate analogy. I don’t think publishing it myself is an option for me, only because I suck at “making things popular.”

      • I’m strictly self published at this point because I lack the patience to go the traditional route (I’m also greedy and have yet to see where traditional publishing isn’t going end up with me selling my ‘soul’ to make someone else “rich”).

        Sending you best wishes though that you find a deal soon as I’d love to read your finished, full length book.

  2. “Now let me ask you, how could any horror writer possibly adhere to that concept? I can think of no horror writers who are personally experts in mass murder, or becoming werewolves. And more than that, who could be passionate about psycho killers, and possessed children? Certainly not me.” Very well put and I really enjoyed this post.

  3. Very nice post, and you’re so spot on with what it means to ‘write what you know.’ I think that phrase is a very broad one and like you said, it’s not what you know ‘about’, it’s not actual life experience or tangible knowledge that makes us good writers(although that does help), it’s what is going on on a subliminal level. People forget that writing involves creation. We’re constantly creating, and that means delving into the unknown…

  4. Pingback: The Right-Way Towards The Writers-Way! | Fiction Writing For Teens & Adults

  5. I’m going to store this in the best advice I ever heard category. I write fantasy and when people tell me ‘write about the things you know.” I stare blankly at them trying to ponder if they know any dragons. Ever been inside a MECHA?

    • Thank you for leaving such a wonderful comment. I’ve never been inside of a dragon, of any kind, and I certainly wouldn’t know where to start to write about one. Good thing is, no one else has either! Looking forward to reading what you write about.

  6. I SO agree with this post, and can relate to this. Me, being a dark writer
    of dark poetry, I myself went to that dark place inside me, tapped into
    it, let it seep out, now it comes in a frenzy. I just go where my Muse takes
    me, and I love exploring that side of me, sometimes with knowledge of
    what I am writing, sometimes not. I step outside my comfort zone and
    walk those dark, seductive shadows that sometimes possess me;)

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