Late last I received some feedback from one of my beta readers, who remarked that the darker scenes and plot lines in Traveller’s Sorrow must have been difficult to write. I’ve been thinking about that today, because she was quite correct, and I found myself wondering how many other writers approach darkness in their narrative in the same manner that I do. It occurs to me that I may take such things a little too personally.
Last month the Swiss artist H.R. Giger, a talented surrealist perpetually remembered at the visual creator of Dan O’Bannon’s xenomorph for the production of Alien, passed away. As I eulogised him on social media I acknowledged that Giger’s approach to art – that of exorcising his nightmares and personal demons via allegorical visualisation – influenced the way I write a great deal. The first short story I wrote as an adult – Searching, which would ultimately be the inspiration for the characters of Corben and Saille in the Traveller Series was written, in part at least, as an expression of grief following the loss of my dog to a traffic collision. Similarly, there are a lot of events and characters in all three books of the Traveller Series which draw upon events in my own life – emotionally rather than directly, it must be stressed – and in doing so help me explore my own feelings about the matter. Sometimes it’s deliberate, sometimes it’s done subconsciously and I don’t realise what I’ve done until later; in all cases it’s usually quite cathartic.
On the other hand, realising that that was what I was doing has made me think long and hard before writing certain plot lines into my story – not for my own sake, but for the sake of the characters that I would be inflicting those events on. I feel like I’m personally harming them, as if they were real, living and breathing people, and therefore I want to be certain that harming them is in the best interests of the narrative. If it isn’t I don’t do it – and trust me, I’ve had some horrible ideas, dramatically-speaking.
So is that taking things too personally? I’m not sure. Is it making me a better writer? I suppose that’s open to interpretation. But I really do wonder whether other writers do the same.