By Jamie Dougall
The first part can be found here: Exposing The Darkness: Writing Evil…Right Part 1
2. The Story
Every story you write will be different from the others. Each will have its own particular set of limits. We have already established why stories need evil to generate conflict, but we haven’t stopped to ask why you are including these elements in your story. Paul makes an excellent point when he writes there is a difference between participating in the unfruitful deeds of darkness and exposing them (NASB, Eph. 5. 11-12). In writing, that difference is wrapped up in theme.
Theme keeps your use of gore and darkness in check because it puts meaning behind the events of your story. Without a theme, we risk losing our way in the darkness. We risk forgetting our purpose and aimlessly writing evil for no other reason than to create something we hope is ‘entertaining’. As a Christian, this is a very real problem. If you are using gore and darkness solely as a draw card or as your story’s ‘energy drink’, you are not exposing the darkness. You are participating in it.
You can use your theme to set limits for your story by making your conflict, and therefore, your use of darkness, flow out of your story’s theme.
- Establish what your theme is.
If your theme is something like “Love is powerful”, you will then consider what true love looks like in action. A loving person is sacrificial, caring for others even more than he or she cares for himself.
- Think about what stands in opposition to love.
Is it hate? Selfishness? Fear? What do those characteristics look like in action?
- Once you have a good grip on your theme and its opposition, you have your source of conflict.
Everything in your story, both the good and the bad, will then flow out of that theme.
Disney’s Frozen actually uses the theme we just described as the basis for their story. We see it played out between two sisters. Elsa’s fear ensnares her, locking her and the entire kingdom in a frozen prison. Only her sister’s sacrificial love can set things right again. Each character and every situation demonstrates an aspect of the writer’s theme in order to form a simple message, “Love will thaw a frozen heart” (Frozen).
You will notice that, although Frozen’s plot does contain some action, most of the story relies upon emotional conflict and emotional darkness. This also brings up a crucial point. As you consider your story’s limits, you must think about what types of darkness it will contain.
“Contrary to popular teen opinion, your story does not actually need physical violence and gore.”
In fact, this is the most expendable kind of darkness. It is also the easiest to use. After all, it is much harder to create a gripping story based solely upon internal or spiritual conflict than it is to throw battles, explosions and evil villains into your book. But don’t be lazy, and don’t be fooled.
A story that lacks any emotional, spiritual or moral conflict, while relying solely on physical conflict, will quickly fall apart.
Take an honest look at your novel. Evaluate your characters, theme, message and story goal then determine the types of darkness your story needs. As you do so, beware. Sometimes good intentions are not enough. If we are not careful, we can accidentally convey the opposite message we meant to through our use of evil.
Daniel Schwabauer, the creator of the One Year Adventure Novel, describes story writing as a kind of translation. Your story starts as a video in your mind. You must then take that video and translate it into words. One day, your reader will pick up those same words and his mind will turn them into a video once again. As the writer, it is your job to make sure your version of the video and your reader’s match up (195-196).
This is often an extremely challenging task. Sometimes it seems downright impossible. Miscommunication happens. Often their significance is minor. Other times it is devastating, especially when it comes to our use of darkness.
I believe The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is an example of this disaster. The story is full of gore and darkness, but it could be argued that it is actually a message against gladiator-style entertainment. It seems Collins tries to show the evils of this barbaric entertainment by putting her protagonist into a high-tech arena and forcing her to fight to the death against boys and girls just like you and me.
I always had the idea the story was meant to horrify audiences and cause them to turn away from this type of violence. Unfortunately, it seems to have had the opposite effect. People of all ages have become Hunger Games fans. They cheer and boo just like the fictitious audiences depicted in Collins’ story. They even play their own home versions of ‘The Hunger Games’, fighting and pretending to kill their friends.
The writer had a compelling character, a theme and a message. She picked her kinds of darkness accordingly, but her good intentions obviously weren’t enough.
Why? I have puzzled over the question, and the most obvious reason is that humans have a sinful nature. We are drawn toward evil, darkness, and, yes, gore. Sometimes darkness is alluring or exciting, but it is still wrong, and, truth be told, it ends in a painful trap. Your job, as a Christian writer, is to expose the darkness for what it is—death. The Hunger Games failed to convince the audience that gore and darkness are terrible, and I know why.
Katniss, their hero, did not die.
Now, I’m not a fan of killing off heroes, but because of the nature of Collin’s story, Katniss’ death becomes necessary to turn the audience away from violence. It is because she lives that the audience is affected the way they are; they get the sense that it is all a big game… In the end the hero won, and the darkness wasn’t all that bad. If Collins had allowed all the audience loved to be stolen from them, destroyed by the gore and darkness, perhaps we would see a different response. People would be outraged, and hurt, and cry out against the evil. They would see the truth, and though Collins’ hero would not have won, her theme would have. Instead of using darkness simply as an enticing draw card, she would have shown it to be the destructive vice that it is. It is likely her story would never have come so far as it has, but at least her good intentions would have been enough.
The final reason The Hunger Games failed is hidden in plain sight. Panem, Collin’s fictitious, dystopian world, seems to have no place for God. Without God, all things are relative. Moral absolutes cannot exist. Good and evil are more like personal preferences than anything else. They can switch places in a second. Because of this, Collin’s moral point stands on shaky ground. It has no foundation… and sometimes foundations can make all the difference.
- What is your story’s theme?
- How does it affect your use of darkness?
- What limits does your book cry out for?
3. The Author
Finally, we come to the most important set of limits: You. You are the only one who can decide whether or not you will write evil right.
There is no easy answer to the question, “How much is too much?” The fine line that divides right from wrong in an individual’s life is not always seen by examining their actions, or their written words. In Colossians 3:17, we read,
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (NASB).
God has a plan for your life, He has a plan for your story, and He wants every part of both to point to His truth.
At times, each of us feels drawn away from God’s plan. Even when we know where our limits lie, we are enticed by darkness and sin. So we slip as close to it as we can, perhaps even dipping our feet into the vile pool, believing that as long as we are not submerged, we will be alright. After all, we’re not really swimming in darkness. We haven’t crossed the line. We convince ourselves that it isn’t wrong because it was just one story, just one scene, just one word.
We forget the line isn’t crossed by mere actions; it is crossed by intentions and heart attitudes. God sees when our hearts are wrong, when we have ceased to live and write for Him and have begun to serve ourselves. When that happens, the limits we have set for ourselves are irrelevant. Imagined lines don’t matter; darkness is darkness. We have ceased to expose it for what it is and have begun to partake in the evil.
When we cease writing for God, we cease to write evil right.
Jamie Dougall is an eighteen-year-old author living with her family of eight in Idaho. She is currently working on her third novel, and has a passion for encouraging others to live—and write—for the King. Jamie believes that life has no greater adventure than to follow the path Christ has prepared for you.
In addition to writing, Jamie loves travel, art, history and reading. She enjoys directing the Sharp Pens Christian teen writers’ workshops and working as a youth leader for her church.