Share time. I did post this on social media a little while back, but I'm going to share it here as well.
I write horror and dark fiction. There's a difference. Dark fiction is not necessarily horror, but deals with dark subject matter, such as disease and death. I appreciate that there is media, such as films, which may present a more light-hearted take on such things, where a character who knows they're going to die - and sooner than expected - will live a more full life. From what little I can remember of the ones I've seen, those stories have been bitter-sweet, but certainly more upbeat than horror. Horror fiction? Yep. That's dark. Those stories which are told with the deliberate intent of stoking dismay or alarm in the reader. Or viewer: because those are films, too. I digress. Back to the matter.
I'm still wading through the A Story A Week challenge from This Is Horror. At the time of writing this, I've currently knocked out 24 stories. A handful of micro-fics in there, but the majority are stories that are some pages long. Again, I concede that where my real interest is at is longer fiction: where you can really immerse yourself into a story and let it unfold around you. And that's why I'm working at breakneck speed to get all 52 stories done ASAP. I'm still on course to get the majority done by the end of June 2017.
So. I had an idea for one of the more recent stories, which gave me pause. For all the story ideas I've had since I took up the mantle of author, even for the stories that I've made outlines of but haven't written yet, this one was a first. Why? Because this was the first story idea I had that disturbed me.
I take it as a point of pride that for my core beta team, I might catch them off guard with some dark delight. Because they've beta'd my work the most and the longest, they have the best idea of what kind of work I'm capable of. Some works they admitted they really liked or some creeped them out. But that's understandable. They're just reading the work. They didn't write it, mould it from an idea into a finished story on an MS Word document.
When I took this up on Facebook with my author peers, I got a number of responses. A number said they had such an idea that disturbed them, but they wrote it anyway. One ventured: "If it wasn't disturbing, it wouldn't be dark, would it?" To which I asked: disturbing for who?
If an author writes horror fiction, it's pretty much a given that the story, or at least parts of it, will be distrubing for a character in it. Hell, that same story may be disturbing for the reader. Some readers enjoy a good scare. Some readers are up for reading a story billed as disturbing. How they react after reading said story is something else. But that's the character and that's the reader. How about the author?
How about when the idea disturbs the very same mind that it came out of?
I recently read Thomas Tessier's "The Nightwalker." This was actually off the back of a similar discussion on social media where I was asking peers for recommendations on a good eerie story to get stuck into. Eric Ian Steele recommended The Nightwalker. While I was pleasantly surprised with the work, I wouldn't say it was eerie. Dark, yes. Violent, yes. Eerie, no. Those are accolades I'll reserve for the likes of Justin Evans' "The White Devil", Michelle Paver's "Dark Matter" and, most recently for me, Susan Hill's "The Woman In Black". Now those are eerie.
I've since written that story, that very same idea that disturbed me. And you know what? Now that I've written it, and read through it on the page, it doesn't hold that kind of sway over me. It's lost that power, or at least some of the impact. Maybe because I've spent so long mentally moulding the idea, refining the plot and flow of the tale, doing basic research on plot elements and then actually writing the story, I've de-mystified it. Something like the magician's trick: I've made it happen, but I've also built the machinery behind the facade. Still, that's just for me, and I'm the author. What'll happen when you, the reader, gets hold of this story? Let me know. Spoil My Darling - that's the working title so far. Let me know what it does for you, if/when I get the story out there.