Why Authors Gravitate Toward Dark Subject Matter That Makes You Cry Like a Little Bitch.

As requested by @bluepuddles - this title is also hers, and I loved it enough to keep it exactly as is. 😘
  1. So @puddles and I got into a convo in the comments section of one of my lists about why authors explore such heavy material as death and illness and gloom
  2. She mentioned that she had to take a break from reading when dealing with a personal situation and found too many books too bleak.
  3. So...why?
  4. I think authors gravitate toward this type of material for a few reasons, and this will vary for each author.
  5. I, for example, tend NOT to cover bleak material. Not because there isn't a ton of stuff to mine there, but because I don't like to read bleak material and so therefore, I don't expect my readers to want to either.
  6. But there is certainly a notion that bleak = serious = literary, and in the book world, "literary" earns you an extra special star.
  7. In fact, full disclosure, my fourth book was pretty heavy and probably my bleakest, and I fully admit (in hindsight) that I probably wrote it partially to be taken more "seriously."
    Whatever "seriously" means. In fact, I discovered, it really means nothing. It's stupid to try to write to be considered a heavy-weight. (But more on this in a minute.)
  8. So certainly, some writers tackle dark subject matter because dark subject matter tends to be given more credence in our circles.
    Kind of like the Oscars and comedy
  9. Not always. But usually, yes.
  10. But there are plenty of other reasons we explore death and grief and divorce and abandonment and heartbreak.
  11. For one, writers work out their own shit through their characters. This isn't always true, but if you're going to write something well, you need to relate to it. This isn't to say that Stephen King is a homicidal murderer, rather that maybe he channels his darker thoughts through his work.
  12. Maybe Stephen King isn't the best example.
    He seems like a really cool guy, actually.
  13. But, for many writers, writing is like therapy, and just as you don't go to therapy and discuss puppies and unicorns, you also don't tend to write about that stuff either.
  14. Again, this doesn't mean that we're not fictionalizing our books, it just means that the undercurrent of our character's pain may be akin to something we're experiencing or have experienced.
    I want and need to be very clear here that we are not just writing our lives. But to connect with a character, I do believe that you have to emotionally understand him or her.
  15. I also think that most writers (and highly creative people in general) are probably more emotionally plugged into life than non-writers.
  16. This is neither a compliment or an insult, just the way it is. It's an ironic profession: that sensitive folks have to put their hearts on display for criticism.
  17. I always tell aspiring writers that if they cannot handle criticism and rejection, to find a different career. I tell them this with love, but the truth is that writing and being published are two different things that require two different skill sets. Namely: thick skin.
    I am not very sensitive TBH, but getting a shitty review still stings, even as a pretty non-emotional person
  18. But I've gone on a tangent. Sorry.
  19. So beyond all of those above reasons, I think the real reason that we cover dark subjects - really the honest reason that we cover ANY subjects - is that we just want to write something that connects with readers.
  20. I was just having a discussion with another writer about how it doesn't matter if it's an important industry review or a personal review from a reader: what matters is that we were able to move someone, to connect with someone, by telling our story.
  21. And because we all mourn, we all grieve, we've all had our hearts broken, we've all lost something, we tell these stories because they are human stories that resonate.
  22. Honestly, everything else aside in the publishing world, the good and bad, the wonderful and horrific, getting an email from a reader or getting a review that really nails what you were going for is the best part.
  23. Not the praise.
  24. The connection.
  25. That you dreamt something up in your corner of the world and it reached someone else in their corner of the world and made an impact.
  26. I once got an email from a woman in her 50s who wrote to tell me that after reading one of my books, she decided to re-enroll in college and finish that degree she always wanted.
  27. I was moved beyond moved.
  28. That's why we write.
  29. Anything.
  30. Death and anguish give our characters obstacles to overcome. They're hurdles which move the plot along but they are also hurdles that careen real lives to a stop and then require us, real people not fictional ones, to move our lives along.
  31. So it's not that we're trying to make you cry, we're just likely trying to connect.
  32. Caveat: as noted above, I find bleak reads (at times) exhausting.
  33. I don't mind an ugly cry - I almost always cry when the writer wrings it from me - but too dark is just not where I am in my life.
  34. And I have realized that's a-okay.
  35. It doesn't make me superficial or less enlightened or whatever.
  36. It only means that I read to get lost in another world, and engaging, lyrical, smart worlds can be enthralling without being bleak.
  37. And on my best days, I write that way too.
  38. All of this is to say: a book doesn't have to be bleak to be wonderful or to connect.
  39. It CAN be.
  40. But as a reader, there's no shame in reaching for something that resonates that doesn't rip your psyche to shreds.
  41. I endorse putting down books that don't move you, even if you think you should read them.
  42. I endorse reading books that you love for the sake of loving them.
  43. Bleak or not.
  44. Light-hearted or not.
  45. What matters is that they move you, change something in you, even if that is simply to cheer you up or make you laugh.
  46. Just imagine if we only had The Revenant and the like to watch, like, forever.
  47. We'd be suicidal.
  48. Read books that you love.
  49. That resonate. That open something up for you.
  50. I think any author will agree that THIS is why we write. Anything.