Writing Wednesday

To break with the stagnant, boring ritual Writing Wednesdays have become, today’s entry is mostly in the form of a question.

Why do good people write bad things?

I don’t mean, writing badly, although I’m sure that happens as well. I mean, why do we explore the deepest reaches of nasty human (and monstrous) behaviour?

I’m a nice girl, right? I’m cheerful and friendly and I would never deliberately hurt anyone. Why then do I feel the need to write horror stories? Why do I enjoy exploring the dark side so much?

In some way I think I’m expressing the darker side of my personality by writing (or indeed, roleplaying) nasty characters, or terrible things happening to good, ordinary people. Debbie suggested (jokingly, I’m sure) that I’m actually a serial killer inside my head and this is the way I let it out. Rather than actually going out and killing people. I think it goes deeper than that though, something to do with monsters being the mirror of human nature.

Amphigori once suggested that it’s easy to write horror when you are in a good place, emotionally, whereas if you are depressed or otherwise emotionally turbulent you want to write nice, cheerful things. Like you want to write about what you aren’t personally experiencing.

I also think it has to do with a certain yearning to ‘try out’ things in a safe way. I don’t mean murder here, but the negative emotions that may not want to express in real life. In Rain I had fun stretching the limits of her relationship with her best friend, having them tell each other nasty truths and really hurtful things. I would never do this kind of thing in real life, but in the book I got to write all kinds of horrible things and then eventually, have them make up and it be alright. It’s cathartic, I guess. You get to feel the emotions and then wrap it up, nicely or otherwise, depending on the story.

I’d be interested to hear your theories on this. Please, go mad with commenting.

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8 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday

  1. The FBI are tapping my phone! My arms keep growing longer when I watch TV! I have bugs under my skin!!!

    *Only one of those things was said to me by a friend who was mad (mild schizophrenia, for which he was later medicated). The other 2 are quite Philip K Dick though, and I believe he too battled schizophrenia?

  2. I think people write (and read) nasty things for 2 reasons:

    1. To create dramatic tension, to heighten the emotional experience of reading or writing and push conflict to extremes.

    2. To scare themselves and others – especially with how close to falling apart things really are, how tenuous a grip any of us has on sanity, on safety, on morality…

  3. Hmm, a thought-provoking post. It’s an interesting idea that horror is easier to write when you’re happy in your real life. I’m not sure if that’s true for me or not. I’m probably not introspective enough to ever find out.

    And yeah, my reference to there being a serial killers in your mind was obviously a joke. You’re far too nice a person to be a cold-blooded killer of anything except maybe delicious cupcakes. ๐Ÿ™‚ Mmm, cupcakes…

  4. Is the writing process vicarious? Sure it is. But I also can’t argue with the idea that torturing one’s characters is, literarily speaking, the Right Thing To Do. After all, that’s the kind of thing that generates nice, delicious conflict in a story.

    Is that why writers do it, though? Are they really just giving voices to their raging inner demons? Maybe somewhat, but I think perhaps it’s got more to do with the “wouldn’t it be cool” factor — getting a picture of something in mind and thinking that it might play out particularly well on the page. Which works for horror just as well as it works for anything else.

    Of course, being the half-crazed, tormented, compulsive writer type myself, I may simply be biased in this regard. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Interesting post, I suppose its the same in roleplaying. I remember Steve once ask me after a few sessions of PTA why I always PCs with a drug/drink etc problem. At the time I didn’t have an answer and I still working on it. I do have a theory though.

    Anyway back to your post, I think maybe its a chance to release emotions/feelings/tensions that you bottle-up. Im not saying that you feel the need to hurt people, but here is an example. All the times that you bite your tongue when people annoy you rather than say something has to go somewhere. When it gets too much it needs to be released. I imagine that you writing horror is a way for this to happen.

    Going back to Steves comment, I found playing addict prone PCs as a release. Believe it or not, I have a terrible temper. There are some days that I have to work long and hard to keep it under control. Playing negative PCs gives me a chance to release this…safely. It sounds like, and you mentioned it also, itโ€™s a safe way to vent, try out emotions you donโ€™t usually use etc. Be someone opposite to you for a few pages.

    Right Iโ€™m stopping before this comment gets too long. But you get the idea. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I’ve always found it impossible to make anything cheerful while I’m properly depressed; grim follows grim, apparently.

    I think paying attention to the grittier and less pleasant aspects of the world can be experimental (curiosity: what happens if…), cathartic (getting an intrusive concept out of one’s head), or just interesting as hell.

    I know a couple of people who will only write and read cheerful stuff because their jobs (ER doc and 911 operator) are too full of crap. But then, some others have harsh environments and explore that when they’re writing, too. Framing something differently to see what happens when factors are altered.

    Stories with no conflict tend to be dull, but Conflict Causing Situation X nailed on is equally as dull!

  7. Yeah I’m fascinated by this. I don’t often enjoy watching the kind of characters I enjoy writing, I just realised. Like, I could barely sit through American Psycho, but writing from Ash’s POV and, more worryingly (or interestingly) gives me a strong feeling of satisfaction.

    Though I’m not sure satisfaction is the right word either.

    Maybe it’s just something as simple as taking a ‘bad boy’ fascination one step further. If you go on the idea that many good people are fascinated/attracted to the ‘bad boy’ type, even though they know they shouldn’t, BEING that bad boy is an even bigger thrill?

    An interesting post! Thanks Jenni!

  8. For me, the basic thing here is the fiction is not reality. There’s a huge safety net in fiction where, no matter how vivid and upsetting something is, it cannot possibly actually hurt anybody.

    The gulf between reading about (or writing) a fictional act of violence and witnessing an actual act of violence is enormous; actually being the victim of violence (or, god forbid, a participant) may as well be on a different planet from any fictional account.

    I’ve actually been wondering why I’m specifically attracted to dark stories & images for years, and I still have no idea. What I do know is that for me, the darkest and most brutal horror story isn’t too far from the most gut-bustingly funny comedy. I usually feel similarly exhilerated afterwards.

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