|“I realized, the moment I fell into the fissure…”
Riven’s Star Fissure
“Where angels fear to tread… even now, standing on the edge. It’s that feeling you get. Right in the back of your head. Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on… … It’s not the urge to jump, that’s too kind. It’s deeper than that. It’s the urge to fall.”
– Doctor Who; the Satan Pit
Somewhere all my darkest fears are gathering,
It’s not enough to save the day, I can’t escape my nightmares.
– Chameleon Circuit; Nightmares
We’re writers. As writers we take the role of God in our stories, dealing out life and death, happiness and despair. As writers we are entitled to a certain amount of insanity, and we revel in our power, make jokes about tormenting our characters, and gleefully keep a death toll. As writers we mirror and exaggerated real life, and what would any story be without a bit of conflict?
Then comes the darkness. The nights alone, with our pen and paper, typing out desperately the fate of our favorites. The more we love a character, the worse it seems we treat him. We grow out of fairytales and develop a vicious desire to show the world how bitterly hopeless life can be. We exalt in this rite of passage, in our ability to tear at our readers heart strings, and to bring people to tears with the grief and pain we depict.
And then, we look back on what we have written, and are ashamed. I wrote that. I was capable of writing that. And more then that, I enjoyed it. If I can write about it in such detail and with such pleasure, what is to keep me from crossing that line of reality, so fragile already in my mind?
We write because we have to. We are compelled to. And when we fear our own writing that is when we write the best. We argue, we debate. How dark is too dark? How violent is too violent? At what point should we cease to shed our characters’ innocent blood? Even once we’ve convinced ourselves that what we write is true, is just, and is acceptable, we do not cease to fear it. We do not stop awaking in the night, haunted by the darkness in the world and in us.
We ask, is this our conscience calling to us? Is this an alarm telling us to stop? Is being a sadistic writer really something to be proud of? And, above all, how do I know when to stop?
When you stop being afraid.
When you wake up one day and the violence doesn’t affect you. When your characters’ cry for mercy and you no longer hear. When what you’ve written before really doesn’t seem all that violent, and the scenes your friends cry over don’t touch you. When you can’t see the horror and the pain, then you have gone too far. When you become proud of the goriest parts of your story, instead of ashamed, then be afraid.
A construction worker far above the ground is afraid of falling. It’s a long way down, and there’s nothing keeping him from falling except his own will. Stand too close to the edge and you could fall over. He is afraid, and he stays away. Don’t be silly, his friends say. It’s perfectly safe. You couldn’t fall off of here any more than you could fall off your front porch. “I’ve fallen off my front porch,” he says, and stays away from the edge. Still, his co-workers taunts haunt him. Perhaps it is silly to be afraid. Perhaps it’s just something he needs to get over, this fear of heights. Or maybe this is the wrong job for him, if he can’t stomach him. Day after day these things eat away at him, and over time he becomes less afraid. He stands up straight near the edge, he looks daringly down at the street below. He walks with confidence, bold and fearless.
That is when he falls.
Confidence betrays, you can no longer distinguish between bravery and foolishness. Fear the darkness. Be afraid of heights. Be afraid, and live. Cry for your characters; lie awake and keep watch for your demons. Be hesitant of blood and pain. Never wish to meet your villain. Never wish to be him. Shudder at your vulnerability, and never loose sight of the darkness. Stay away from the edge in case you lose your footing and find yourself…