Let There Be Light

I think I’ve spoken in the past, if not here elsewhere on how starved of light I was as a kid. Partly because of technology and partly because of absolute wealth, the use of electricity was sparing and irregular and any lights in public were rare and … not very impressive.

Which is why — particularly this time of year — I can’t get enough of lights.  The year is at its darkest, and almost any seasonal festival is about lights.

Because in the dark we need something to guide us, something to aim for, something to soothe the soul. Which brings us to writing and reading.

I’m rather dorky. My favorite form of unwinding is to sit down and watch British mystery series.  Recently I’ve had to give up on two in a row because by the tenth episode the writers had made the “heroes” as … well…. as evil and dirty as any of the villains.

There is a tendency — and yes, it goes with politics, and with the side that hates humanity as is, and wants to create humanity anew (hint, other than filling 100 million graves, which admittedly did change a lot of humans from living to dead, this never works.) — to try to make books and movies “realistic” by not just giving everyone a flaw, but making everyone morally dingy to the same degree.

Part of the drive to do this is to be “realistic” and “not cartoony” which is what you hear when you recoil in horror from such unappealing confections.

I think it is a reaction to living mostly in story.  I think the people who feel the need to taint everyone to make it “real” are people who have very little experience of the real world and who grew up with overprotective parents with “just so” stories in which there were black and white choices.

Historically the “everyone is dirty” stories were a reaction to Victorian “Perfect Polly” books (no seriously. Grandma had them from her childhood. The “hero/ine” was so perfect butter wouldn’t melt. By page then you wanted them dead, dead, dead. And it never happened.)

But the truth is that those books are not reality either.  For one, no, not everyone is dingy to the same degree. (Though everyone is flawed to some extent. But the extent and the flaws vary.) For another, no book is reality. It can’t be, unless you’re going to write the simplest of stories, say “Bob has breakfast” at 120k word length including what was happening all around him, his childhood, his state of health…

A story is an ordered narrative that selects what to highlight to create a coherent feeling or vicarious experience.  Life is neither ordered, nor does it have limited highlights, nor does it create coherent feelings or experiences.

So no matter how much you’d like to — why would you like to? You already have a life, right? — you can’t write real life.  What you write is of necessity a distillation, shaped by your own experience and meant to elicit a reaction from the reader.

Now maybe the reaction you want to elicit is for the reader to decide there is no goodness, no one is clean, and light doesn’t actually exist.

Fine.  If that’s what you want, you do you.

But don’t then assume superior airs of morality and intellectual superiority because you do this and you’re not one of those “cartoony” “black and white” writers.

Because when you do that, all you do is show your own immaturity and shallowness.

Adolescents are always the ones who give themselves airs and think they’re special because they realized that the world outside the nursery is not as simple as within.

Meanwhile those of us who are older, and have left the nursery long ago, and saw a lot more dark and evil than these pampered summer children, know that yes, the world can be a dark, horrible place where all you can do is scream and die.

We know that even the happiest, most blessed of lives is a tragedy. The hero always dies in the end. And usually before he/she dies, he/she will see friends, family and even pets die. Sometimes in horrible and utterly undeserved ways.

Because no, the world is not a Victorian morality play and the pretty and good little girl doesn’t live happily ever after.

But anyone who has lived long enough also knows that it’s not all dark.  Sometimes, at your darkest ebb, when you’re about to give up on humanity, someone stops and does something they don’t need to do to bring light into your world.  And sometimes it is the most unlikely, most flawed person you know.

And eventually you come to realize that yeah, everyone is flawed.  Yes, you too. If you look inside, you’ll find you’re pretty broken. Everyone is. We all fall short of what we could be. We’re all too lazy, too self centered, too envious…. sins enough for all humanity.

But that’s not all we are. Most of us have the virtues of our faults.  The person who is envious can choose to channel it into competing to be the best possible, rather than use it to tear others down to nothing.  And the lazy person who knows he or she is lazy can encourage him/herself to work.

We will never be perfect. These days, outside some very strange romances, very few writers try to write perfect people, either.

But because we’re not imperfect it doesn’t mean we’re worthless.

Because there’s no darkness, it doesn’t mean there should be no light.

If you want to paint a completely dark canvas and call it “reality” go for it. You do you.  But that’s not superior art. And it’s certainly not reality.  It’s just an excuse to give in to the worst and claim there’s no best.

As for me, aware I can’t write reality, I’ll write as close as I can to reality.  Yes, there is horrific darkness and terrible things are done.  But there is also light, and sometimes wonderful, beautiful things are done. Sometimes by the same person, even.

Darkness? I have darkness enough and more inside me to push the world into eternal night. So do we all. It’s called being human.

I can’t ignore the darkness in my writing. I know it’s there. If I wrote without darkness, I wouldn’t write humans or for humans.

But I can’t ignore the light, either.  There are people who while tempted do not fall, while bloodied and battered yet fight for good, while despairing turn it around and try to find hope and give it to others.

If your canvas is all dark, without light, you’ve created nothing.

Let there be light.  And let it shine through what you are and what you write.

And maybe light the way for others.

19 comments

  1. IMO worse that “everybody in that story should die” is “I don’t care what happens to anybody in that story”. 😦

    1. I’ve found a lot of those. Not only do I not like any of these people, I can’t even muster up enough hate to wish that they’d all be run over by a semi-truck.

      I suppose that the “everyone’s evil” writers feel that at least they’ve avoided that trap.

      1. Well, sometimes the “everybody’s evil” garbage just means that the reader doesn’t care about the characters.

      1. In My “Humble” Opinion that basically the same as “everybody should die”. 😉

  2. My favorite form of unwinding is to sit down and watch British mystery series. Recently I’ve had to give up on two in a row because by the tenth episode the writers had made the “heroes” as … well…. as evil and dirty as any of the villains.

    I haven’t been watching any, but I’ve lost count of the new mystery series that I’ve tried, then returned to the library after about five chapters because I hate everyone involved and have no interest in spending my precious free time with them.

    1. Haven’t had that problem, but I started a promising new series then had to toss it before I finished the first book because the primary ‘heroic’ characters were simply too stupid too live.

  3. > And the lazy person who knows he or she is lazy can encourage him/herself to work.

    Or invent new ways of getting out of work. I’m thinking of Heinlein’s “The Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail” in particular, but really, much of human history boils down to figuring out ways of Getting Cool Stuff without doing any of that unpleasant work (whether by automating the work, or, far less admirably, by taking other people’s stuff at weapon-point and making them do the work by standing over them with a whip).

  4. Saint Francis of Assisi specifically said that a large part of our perfection is to support others in their imperfection. And of course he didn’t mean saying that their flaws were just great; he meant dealing with the trouble that their imperfections caused, while they did the same for you. And lots of really good stories work from that principle, noticed or not.

  5. One of the reasons I wrote _Fountains of Mercy_ was I got so dang tired of post-apocalyptic “everyone dies, world is pure evil, all is dark” stories. Really? Don’t think so. The Black Death and the 17th Century were horrible (to put it mildly), but humanity survived, and life in the long term improved. Because people didn’t all roll over and quit.

    1. That was what I liked about David Brin’s “The Postman.” Civilization had regressed mostly to the stage of isolated villages. But when what was essentially a con man assumed the status of a formerly-respected institution, people’s belief in it made it real…

      I’ve heard the movie was substantially different from the novel.

  6. Hum…

    But I can’t ignore the light, either. There are people who while tempted do not fall, while bloodied and battered yet fight for good, while despairing turn it around and try to find hope and give it to others.

    Let there be light. And let it shine through what you are and what you write.

    And maybe light the way for others.

    Reminded of this song… Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…

    Merry Christmas!

    1. Great line in this Macabeats song:

      (Let me see the light)
      I need something to live by.
      (do do do)
      Help me see myself in my reflection
      (Shine tonight)
      Let me shed the light in each direction
      (shining bright)

  7. i can write dark, but i dislike grimdark or hopeless… (i think i have voiced my opinion of most Russian SF, including games…)

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