Have you ever looked at your story and asked yourself, “Where the hell did that come from?”

I have. Often.

Tau’s Pride is turning out to be quite the wild ride. Now, I love dark stories. I love the edge, the thrill of reading them, and I equally enjoy creating antagonists that have that same edge. They’re vile, depraved, heartless bastards, though not randomly so. They have motivations of their own and fully believe what they’re doing is right. There’s definitely a method to the madness.

But am I any of that? No, not at all. There is darkness though, and everyone has some in them.

Many times while writing this new series we’ve had to ask ourselves, have we stepped over the line? Is it possible that we’ve gone too far?

Then we look at the story’s core. In it, we’re reminded why we took that direction.

So, how do you go dark and still maintain integrity without becoming a splatter-fest orgy of sex and violence? Here’s this week’s list of things I’ve learned:

  1. Everything has a reason. Gratuitous sex and violence are sure ways to bring your story down. What you don’t want is a book full of random encounters with no reasonable motivation or emotion behind them. You have to reach your readers’ minds first, make them believe that the situation is possible, just like anything else you would do in your story. Without that, your big fight scene, or the baddies taking out their frustrations on your hero, or the mental anguish your characters are going through will fall flat and in the worst case, become laughable.
  2. Remember who and what your characters are. I’ll tell you this right now, the Tau’s Pride series is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. The real enemy is the one who lurks in our characters’ minds. It’s the shame and guilt born from being a combination of human and animal. Wendi and I are constantly reminding ourselves these guys are animals at heart. They play hard, they love rough. The lessons they teach one another are equally harsh. This is the way it is in nature. The Laws of the Wild have no mercy. Our characters deal out and suffer through events that we as humans would look at with disgust and disbelief. But for them? It’s normal. Were they fully human, then yes, I’d say the line was crossed long ago.
  3. If you’re squirming, your readers are too. We squirm. A lot. There are moments when my fingers hover above the keyboard and I ask myself, am I really going there? It’s like falling off a cliff once you put those taboo scenes down in the document, there’s a moment of frightening free-fall, and the words are out and you wince. That’s when you take a look at points one and two above and make sure there’s a reason and you’re staying true to character. If you are, that’s good. Some subjects are meant to make people uneasy, and they’re also meant to make people think, especially when taken in the greater context of the story.
  4. Get to the root of the darkness. This is something Wendi and I come back to frequently. As of this moment, we’re writing some difficult scenes, and on the surface they may appear like we’re getting our jollies abusing our characters. We’re not though. We’ve spent plenty of time getting to the core of each character’s personal darkness, the dirty little secrets they’ve never told anyone else, not even their Lifemates. When you uncover a character’s darkness, in a way, you’re staring at your own in the mirror. Power, lust, greed, control, hatred, lies…everyone has these little seeds hidden away. We all have the parts of ourselves that we don’t let out into the light, the things we hide from the world. These flaws are what make the character real. That beautiful man, the one who seems like he’s got it all going on, who is brave and courageous…you bet he’s hiding a dirty little secret. Sometimes you have to dig for it, but it’s there. There is always a root to the darkness, and it’s often unexpected and frequently something so, so simple that has gotten blown out of proportion over time, or misinterpreted from childhood, or a set of beliefs inherited and followed without ever questioning why.
  5. Discovery. At the very foundation of searching the darkness in your stories and ours is the process of self-discovery. Tau’s Pride is about transformation. There’s the physical transformation that goes on and more importantly, the internal transformation that happens. This is why we dig deep and explore the sticky issues. As Wendi said, “You can’t transform what you don’t dare to see.” The moment you discover the “why”, the moment you drag it out into the light and give it a name, you can start healing from it.

So there you go, that’s all I’ve got this week. I know a few of you out there like to write dark, and read dark. Where’s your line in the sand? What haven’t you touched on yet, and why not? What makes you squirm? Tell us in the comments below…go ahead, it’s a judgement free zone.

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  1. Interesting to hear about your experience and the guidelines you follow when you write about the darker side of life. When I studied Drama Therapy, one of my profs used to tell us how he used to get teenagers to act out all these scenes from their imagination. Some of the stuff they did was illegal and not acts they should commit in real life (without consequence). People used to confront my prof about this and he would say that if the kids acted it out in his group, rather than influence them to do it in real life, it would do the opposite. They would not need to act out the scene in real life as they had expressed it in other ways. I think we all need an outlet for all sides of who we are and so “dark” stories provide just that, don’t they? 🙂

  2. I wish anyone who calls themselves an author could read this article. Too often I read reviews or read books where the author leads us all over the place. They should definitely ask themselves if they’ve crossed the line yet while writing. Definitely a great article for all first time authors.

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