How to Develop the Strength to Write Terror
So I got a weird question on my Facebook fanpage the other day. I'm paraphrasing, but it more or less went: "How do you find the strength to write about such emotionally draining things? I've been wanting to write a certain idea for months now, but the place it goes is so dark I'm worried about what it will do to me."
My answer was simple: once you've actually lived through a couple real terrors, writing fake ones gets a lot easier.
Now this doesn't mean that I've faced down serial killers or ghosts or aliens that want to make my face into an interesting knick-knack for their billion pod-children. Yet.
But it does mean this: bad things have happened to me. Some were my fault. Some were the fault of others. Some were the fault of no one at all, just the (bad) luck of the draw. But some truly terrible things have happened in my life, and to be honest they make anything in fiction pale by comparison. After all, what's to fear in a book about ghosts when you've really lost someone you love? Why am I going to worry about some mythical killer when I know someone who really got murdered?
You get the picture.
Now, not everyone has had my experiences. But everyone has experienced loss. Trials. Tragedy. One of my personal axioms is this: "Everyone's life is the most difficult thing that has ever happened to them." Meaning that to each of us, our experiences equal the maximum possible pain we are equipped to understand. Example: I have a great friend who is a quadriplegic. And that looks rough. Really, honestly, super-duper rough.
But I don't truly get it. Just like I didn't truly "get" being a dad until I'd cleaned my millionth diaper in the middle of the night, just like I didn't understand what marriage "really was" until my wife and I had our first bang-up fight, just like I didn't understand hard work until that first job I thought was going to literally kill me.
We don't understand anything beyond ourselves. (Heck, sometimes we don't even understand ourselves.) But that being said, every one of us has gone through life's rough patches. You look at "the beautiful people," those folks out there who seem to have it all going on. You know, the tall, beautiful, successful folks with nice hair and nicer cars. Even they crumble when you aren't looking.
If a tree is tall and lovely in the forest, and no one sees it, trust me, it can still be eaten from within by worms.
So back to my earlier question, and a nice thing about humanity and horror. We all experience horror in our daily lives. Kinda sucks in a way.
But you're still reading this. Which means not only did you survive the entire list of your horrors, you thrived. You're reading an internet piece about some random dude who has turned his nightmares into a living. Maybe you're thinking about doing the same.
Think about that.
The human race gets a lot of flak for a lot of stuff. And we deserve it. We beat each other up, we kill each other sometimes. We mistreat ourselves, our environment. We belittle those who don't deserve it and lionize those who deserve it even less.
BUT.... (yeah, I'm full of big buts)
But what other animal has found a way to turn its nightmares into gold? What other creature tells scary stories around a campfire, not merely as a way to survive the night's terrors, but as a way to draw closer together? To chuckle nervously, then watch that laughter those nervous titters turn to genuine laughter as we realize that we are not alone? As we realize that others are afraid, that others have felt the pain we have felt. That the dark is large, but the brightness can be – and often is – so much larger.
So where do I get the strength to write such awful ideas? Really? Pssst.... Lean in close.... I get it from my readers. I get it from my friends. I get it from people.
I get it from you.
Keep on reading. Keep on being afraid. Because fear is part of life. Terror is a reality of our world.
But (one last but) so is hope, so is light. It's why we read.
It's why I write.