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.

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.