“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Robert Frost was correct: A writer can never honestly convey sentiment on the page without having experienced that same sentiment in real life.
All of the above needs qualification. A horror writer need never experience identical physical injuries to those he inflicts on his characters or be chased by monsters in real life in order to scare his or her audience. He or she may simply draw upon their own fears or from the real experiences of others. The monsters we face in the everyday world are sadness, fear, hatred, anger and envy and usually all of these are the outgrowths of injustice.
Acclaimed horror writer Jack Ketchum was so outraged by an article in the crime section of a state newspaper that he wrote The Girl Next Door. Ketchum never suffered the tortures experienced by the novel’s heroine Meg but the description of her ordeals is the stuff of nightmares. What makes Ketchum’s depictions of violence and terror so affecting is that they are delivered with an underlying sensitivity and sympathy for the human condition with all its imperfections and beauty.
My own writing is driven by an undercurrent of sentiments, both positive and negative towards humanity and sometimes my temper affects how I express the written word. When I am angry, my writing is angry. When I’m sad or philosophical, so too is my prose, as no doubt Dear Reader you have realised if you have read this far.
I won’t lie to you: As I write this post I am tormented by the demons of fatigue, sadness and anger. I recently witnessed an injustice – an offense towards an innocent – and I cannot deny the fury born of that offense. In the aftermath of that outrage I am left pondering humanity’s capacity for wrong-doing.
Often the worst evil is perpetrated by ordinary people. There exists within each of us a power struggle between what is ethical and what is desirable and between the positivity of our strengths and our capacity to use those same strengths to cause harm. The difference is as stark as the contrast between light and dark and between love and hate.
Tonight I struggle between those realms and between conflicting ideals of fury and resignation. And as rage gives way to cold acceptance, I am left numbed, tormented and despondent. I suppose that sorrow is an aspect of the healing process: Part of a rebalancing of spirit after the unwanted imbalance of conflict. Or it may simply be the detritus left in the wake of anger returning, snarling and sullen to its psychic cage.
Such sentiments will at some point provide useful creative fuel, or in some future work inspire tears in both writer and reader. For now these conflicting emotions are too raw, too immediate for fictive adaptation and from the resulting maelstrom emerges Doubt, that most conniving of demons.
The temporary cure is, as John Keats noted, slumber. Sometimes when beholden to fatigue and drained by events I recall one of Keats’s finest works the Ode to a Nightingale and its opening stanza:
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
There are no nightingales here tonight but through the open window I hear the calls of the summer night birds and slumber beckons. I know that tomorrow will be kinder.