How Dark Do You Go
A group of us were helping a critique partner brainstorm a story last night. Someone suggested a course of story action that made me cringe. It was a horrifying suggestion. I hated it. To me, the action suggested is brutal, unforgiveable, and utterly unheroic. The writer loved it. The scene will show up in her work and it’ll be amazing.
The problem is that I’m in planning for a new novel. My hero has a specific fear – that he was bred and raised to be a killer. He is secretly afraid that he’ll cross a line and commit an unforgiveable act. If this is his greatest fear, it is my job, as a writer, to drop him right smack in the middle of doing precisely what he’s spent most of his life promising himself he wouldn’t do: betraying the trust of someone he cares about.
You see my issue? I’m in the same spot my critique partner is in – she’s embracing the unforgiveable, reveling in the fact that this terrible thing she’s planning to have one character do to another IS a gross, irredeemable violation. While my hero’s fear centers around his telepathic skill, if he has to invade the heroine’s mind, in order to realize he’s facing his greatest terror, this has to be brutal and terrible and it has to feel irredeemable to him. For part of the story, it may feel irredeemable to the heroine as well.
After the brainstorming session closed down and I got ready for bed, a funny thing began happening. My brain started playing around with The Very Awful Story Action from my CP’s upcoming story. Given: Nasty, horrific, unforgiveable act committed by a main character in a romance. Challenge: How to make it forgiveable so you can eventually get to your Happily Ever After.
Yeah, my brain is a strange place. I can have this massive ‘OMG, that’s so icky, you can’t possibly put that in your story’ reaction to something, only to have stuff start bubbling up hours later about ‘you know, you could totally do that thing you loathed, if…’
Ultimately, I suppose the real question becomes: Just how dark do you want a character’s dark moment (aka black moment) to be? The stronger the character, I suggest, the grimmer his or her reckoning needs to be. So here I am: contemplating how to make irredeemable betrayal redeemable.
Hints welcome. Fireball Whiskey increasingly welcome, too.