Wednesday Writers Wisdom: Drawing Up the Dark by Elizabeth Yon
What is Wednesday Writers Wisdom?
I’m glad you asked. I originally started this series to share writing advice with other writers, especially beginning writers. I know when I first started writing again in 2010, I needed a lot of help. So, thus WWW was born. You can expect to find writing advice shared by me, other #ourwriteside authors, and guest authors. Our emails are always available for question suggestions as well. I’d like to start the conversation and answer those questions you must have answers to. After all, this isn’t just OUR Write Side, but it’s Yours, too.
Our Wednesday Writers Wisdom comes to you today from Elizabeth Yon.
Elizabeth Yon lives in rural Bedford County, Pennsylvania. She is the author of two story collections: Wilderness, A Collection of Dark Tales; and Blackfern Girls. Her short stories have been published in the anthologies Precipice, Vols. II and III; Echoes in Darkness; and the Bannerwing Books showcase Open Studio. More of her dark fiction can be found on her WordPress blog, The Palace of Night.
Drawing Up the Dark
Each morning, I follow the last shadows down the staircase to my writing nook. I wind the clock and boot up the computer. I play the creaking floorboards underfoot on my way to the kitchen where I feed the cats and drink coffee. Perhaps, if the season is right, I take a turn in the garden. It’s all quite placid, a mundane start to the day in an old, but kindly, house. There is nothing to foretell the sprouting of fearsome worlds, like a wilderness of mushrooms fat with malice, that is about to occur. I will sit down at my keyboard and open a door to that forest of night. I will apply myself to the riddle of how to serve you, the reader, a meal of those mushrooms.
I write dark fiction – stories that fall under the black umbrella of horror, but which can be further classified as dark fantasy, paranormal, fairy tale, and fable. Every creature and trope in the horror domain is fair game, but how I assemble the materials determines sub-genre. For me as a reader, and certainly as a writer, it is not satisfactory to play with tired tropes, though. Something more than cheap, B-movie scares must infuse the stories. I’ll share my own recipe, stirred up with some success, but always leading me on toward a tantalizingly elusive feast of dark perfection. It includes the spice of beautiful language – careful construction of lovely literary complexity, even a dash of the poetic. If the words are rich and fill the reader’s mouth with the desire to speak them aloud just for the pleasure of them on the tongue, I feel satisfaction.
I add to the recipe the dazzling ornament of fully imagined setting. This requires the use of every sense. It is not enough to enable the reader to see. The stories take place somewhere, in worlds of fantastic possibility, and somewhen, in distinct eras. Close attention must be paid to details, and to smells, and to sounds. Tactile input must somehow be achieved. A world complete is one the reader can inhabit in an almost physical sense, one that is an extension of her body map. It is a world that she believes she can touch, and that (gulp) touches her in return.
So, we have a place and time to visit, we’ve not been lazy with our research, and we have a sensuous mode of communication. There must be characters, and they cannot come ready made from some market. They must be created from scratch, the words they will speak placed in their mouths with a care that could animate stone angels. They must speak and act in ways that are true to their roles as well as to the reader, and they must never fall into the dull robotism of stock action or dialogue. Keen, and even rude, observation is my friend here. I do not shy from unabashed eavesdropping in public places. I collect life stories from friends and strangers with the avidity of an interrogator. I am as enamored of the ugly as I am of the beautiful, and I accept that both live in every individual. I enjoy all that human nature has on offer, and aim to choose from the best ingredients to make well developed, round characters.
And now we come to it, that overarching, meaty thing referred to as plot. It seldom comes to me first. Most often, I begin with the others, making a savory broth that calls for this or that happening. The plot, the toothsome flesh of the story, grows like a mushroom from the interactions of the other components. Yet, there is still an enigmatic additive I think lends the spark of real life to an otherwise partially animated tale.
I draw it from a well within me, the lightless shaft where I keep my secret pain and terror. It is the salt of personal experience; distilled from the fathomless subterranean sea of feeling and knowing that rolls its tidal brawn at the core of each of us. In writing the kinds of stories I write, I run my fingers over the slick hides of my own monsters as the slip by me in the murk, learning their shapes and boundaries. This is where the dark rises; this is where it is hauled bucket by harrowing bucket to the torchlight. This is where we gather, all together, to look at it.
And something new on every Wednesday Writers Wisdom: one question answered by a publisher per week.
Question: Which one are you truly looking for: impressive writing or solid stories you know will sell well?
This week’s answer comes from Jen Wylie of Untold Press:
Because we are not a major publishing house, we are able to pick and choose stories we know are great, and not be concerned about current trends and marketability.