Bitter With The Sweet – Sarah A. Hoyt

When I was in art class — four years. Yes, would like to do again, if I stop getting sick and can find time. I think it’s good for my mental health. Also covers — one class stands out starkly in my mind.

I was sitting at the easel, struggling to capture a likeness (It was life drawing, but we did portraiture also) in pastels, and failing — all my paintings from that time look washed out, like an overexposed photograph) — and the teacher walking around, looking at all our work. And she said “Don’t be afraid of the dark. The dark has to be in there, or the light doesn’t show right.”

Being a snerk by avocation and an idiot by personality, I heard myself say in this thin, creepy voice “Come to the dark side. We have cookies.” And the whole class cracked up.

But she was right.

These days, when I’m mostly dealing with redrawing parts of or fixing mid journey renders to make covers (or merging three or four drawings, to be fair) because yeah, I could draw the whole thing, but it would take me a month, and cut seriously into writing time, which is why I’ve always done short cuts like Daz 3d and filter forge and what have you) — I’m often shocked when I take a sample from an area in the middle that looks, say, light blue, and the sample is a blue almost black.

Because our perception of colors is influenced by the colors around it. In the middle of darker colors, a color looks light even when it isn’t. In the middle of lighter colors, a color can look really dark, even when it isn’t.

Or, take the fact that I’ve been low carb so long, now that we know I’m NOT pre-diabetic, Dan gave me a little bit of candy for Easter. Wasted money. I can’t taste chocolate or peanut butter or whatever. All I taste is sweet. Heck, when I indulge in corn chips or fries or rice, I tell servers “This is my dessert” and they look confused, but those taste super-sweet to me nowadays, because I rarely have carbs.

It’s all in what you’re used to/what’s around it.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Well, someone in a discord group quoted someone saying that tragedy was always “more serious” and meaningful than comedy.


They’re not wrong, but they’re not right either.

Of course murder or death or whatever is experienced as much more serious. It is the nature of it, you see.It’s final.

In your life, you’ll hopefully have a lot of fun dinners with family, or nice Christmas eves. But you’ll only experience the death of a relative or friend once per relative or friend. (Hopefully. We don’t want to hear about your vampiric aunt.)

So those events will stand out and have a greater gravity. Of course.

But you’ll also only experience the birth of your child once per child. And if you think that doesn’t have metaphorical narrative weight, you’re deluding yourself.

While tragedies are hefty in narrative sense, and can be used as a cudgel to beat a point home — and therefore lend themselves to certain points of view — it’s quite possible to make a strong impact in comedy or in tragedy wrapped in comedy. If you don’t think so, you have never read Terry Pratchett.

The point is comedic writers that are nothing but comedy, or as I call it, cross the road to run over a joke because it was there grow tedious and cloying. Kind of like sugar, when you’ve been low carb too long.

And writers who are nothing but tragedy create grey goo. You couldn’t care less about their characters, or their world, because they’re unpleasant people doing unpleasant things. You get tired of their drama, and you want something fun or happy or…

Probably my most popular work is the very silly Daring Finds murder mysteries. Yes, there are murders. And fairly horrible things happen. But around them there are moments of family closeness and silliness, and —

In reading them recently to write the next one, I realized they’re some of the most soothing murder mysteries I’ve ever read. No, seriously, you want to go back and re-read the fun parts even after you know the murderer.

Now in those I was aiming for that. For pastel colors, and a fun overall picture. They are, after all, cozies. They still make several points I wanted to make, but they’re goofy fun.

The Darkship Thieves books are more serious. But very few people experience them as dystopia. They are, of course. But the character is still fighting, and has wins (They all do.)

So, tragedy? Comedy?

Each needs a dollop of the other to be visible and strong enough.

It’s the balance you pick that makes it feel one way or the other.

Pick the balance you want. Don’t be afraid of the dark tints. But don’t be afraid of light, either.

28 thoughts on “Bitter With The Sweet – Sarah A. Hoyt

  1. I did a blog post once on what I call “the change up”–a metaphor based on a baseball pitch (as I understand it; I’m not a sports guy) where the pitch comes in a little slower than the pitcher’s fastball leading to the batter to swing early and…strike.

    Bask when I first got an MP3 player I made a playlist of all my favorite songs. This was beore my “musical awakening” so they were all of a very similar style. Playlist turned out to be boring, not because of any problem with the individual songs–they were my faforites, remember, but because the same kind of thing over and over soon becomes too much. Add in some “less favorite” songs of different style and suddenly the whole playlist was better.

    We need contrast to really make things pop, or, as the religion in which I grew up said, “there must needs be an opposition in all things.” 😉

      1. On a practical note, you can get very dark chocolate now, for the occasional treat.
        I cut a fair amount (but by no means all) sugar over a decade ago after what might have been a hypoglycemic moment. I can’t drink sweet tea any more, it’s sugar syrup. Pretty much off soft drinks, too. But “they” might have to pry my bittersweet chocolate out of my cold, dead fingers.

          1. I’m stuck at Ghiradelli bittersweet (60%).
            I make a mean chocolate chip cookie with them, but they’re beginning to get a bit too sweet.

              1. I top out at 70%. A lot of the higher percentages are just too dry for my taste. (Godiva once had a “dark milk” 50% bar that was spectacular. Alas, it seems to have been a one-shot trial run.)

  2. Am back in Dorothy Sayers’ translation of The Divine Comedy. She points out that the two cantos devoted to the circle of barrators are meant to be savagely funny; partly because Dante was exiled from Florence on a trumped-up charge of political corruption, but also to give the reader a pause between the horrors of the earlier circles of Hell and the horrors to come.

  3. 1. I’ve never been able to perceive color, even when I could still see a little so this was interesting from that
    2. Back when I could still see, blindness is easier in allot of ways, part of my condition was called photophobia… you can have as much fun with that one as I have over the years.
    3. While I’ve not read the mysteries described, my Kindle reading list is stupidly long now that I can listen to books off of it, they sound similar to Dean Koontz’ Odd Thomas works, which often combine humor and seriousness rather well. Anyhow, enjoyed this, as I usually do, so have a good one you hear. perspective.

    1. 2. They need to come up with a better name for that. It’s not fear of light, but that even what most people would consider moderate light causes pain. Avoiding something that hurts is not a ‘phobia’.

  4. I enjoy bittersweet endings, where the heroes win, at a cost, yet life goes on anyways.

    The girl may not get her missing memories back, but figures out enough to continue her life, and decides to drop in and meet the guy she can’t remember who risked his life for her and find out what he is actually like. They fell in love once before, after all.

    I just feel like life never has tidy endings that wrap up everything in a bow, and that’s ok, and that should be something stories deal with and cover how to deal with.

  5. I think I just realized why Arthur Saldovado likes chocolate so much. It is one of the very, very few purely good, happy things in his world. It has no connection to his past. It’s not part of the Hunter Clan culture. It’s tasty, it’s his alone, and it brings a complete pause from other events. It pleases his senses, no matter what else goes on around the moment. It’s a bright bit of color against the darkness and memories.


  6. Hey! I’m teaching a class this Saturday (15 April 2023 for future viewers) on how to correct AI images (And Daz images) among other things, digitally, in an easy way. The class can be bought by the session or as a whole class. Just email me if you want to know more. (And that is for anyone here!)

    As for Tragedy vs Comedy, I hate tragedies, if I find out a book or movie has a bad/sad ending, I just won’t read or watch it. I’ve been tricked too many times. (A.I. – I’m looking at you). Having been military, I do use gallows humor, but it’s a comedy meant to deal with the tragedy and help you to move on.

    In my writing, I use well placed comedy, because life is absurd, and so my stories have those moments of absurdity, too. It’s part of the action/reaction of storytelling and life.

  7. “You can’t build a plot out of jokes. You need tragic relief. ” — Terry Pratchett

  8. (We don’t want to hear about your vampiric aunt.)

    Mad muse: Sto-Ree Prompt! Sto-Ree Prompt! Sto-Ree Prompt!

    Genre: Dark Comedy or Comic Horror
    Title: “She Of Whom Thou Hearest Not”

  9. “So, tragedy? Comedy? Each needs a dollop of the other to be visible and strong enough.”

    Truly. Fiction without both would be tedious.

    Real life, meanwhile, would be a helluva lot more fun with just comedy. But you only find out who your people are when the lights go out and the monsters arrive. And knowing “who your people are” — and appreciating their value — is the most important part of being alive.

  10. My mom is pen-pal friends with author Tom Holt, who writes comic fantasy. Which, you know, isn’t bad, but it’s not quite my thing, being enough Very British to sail past me sometimes.

    But when he’s writing grimdark as K.J. Parker? Those comic bits are *hilarious*, because they’re in such stark contrast to the dark tales surrounding them. Very needed, and not out of place at all, even.

      1. Ohhh yes. The people are horrible and horrible things happen to them, though it’s very interesting. (I have a limited tolerance for grimdark and it’s basically limited to K.J. Parker and Sam Sykes, who obviously have some humor under everything.)

        And some of the humor is in the “cosmic irony” sense, too. As in, this horrible person is going to live in their own personal version of hell, and they deserve it, but it’s oddly hilarious.

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