Fear of Big Topics: Guest Post by Shannon M. Howell
Part 5: Fear of BIG SCARY TOPICS
First I’d like to thank Eric for hosting this post today. This is such a big fear for me, that I didn’t even want this post on my own blog… and I had to write it on prescription pain killers. Thanks, Eric! Also, if you’d like to read about my other writing fears, just follow the links at the end of this post.
Right now, I’m writing a story about how my bad guy became a bad guy, and I’m confronted with some things that make me very uncomfortable.
My antagonist wasn’t born bad. However, some really bad stuff happened. The problem I’m running into now is I’m not quite sure what bad stuff happened. I’ve got a vague idea, but I’m really afraid of developing any detail at all.
Compared to some of my other fears, this one is rather concrete. I am afraid of 1.) giving myself nightmares 2.) finding out that I am capable of thinking up truly horrifying things 3.) that I’ll write truly horrific things… and people will think that’s part of who I am.
Let’s stop for a moment and consider an example (skip the following 2 paragraphs if you don’t want to read the icky details).
In the Codex Alera, an epic fantasy series by Jim Butcher, there is a magical slave collar. What’s so bad about it? They make the slave do whatever the collar’s owner tells the slave to do – and enjoy it sexually. That’s creepy, right?
Now, that we’ve got a concept that can impart the heebie-jeebies, what happens when it’s put into action? One example is a tension-building scene in which a woman has been kidnapped by a man who really doesn’t like her. He threatens to put one of these on her and order her to pleasure him.
That was the first time I’ve ever read something and thought, “This author can think up some sick stuff.” It wasn’t gratuitous. It wasn’t unnecessarily detailed or graphic. If anything, it was a bit too-true, despite the elements of magic. It was unhinged, in the same way that people who commit heinous crimes are unhinged. I think that’s what made my skin crawl when I read it.
I’m finding that I don’t even want to think about this sort of thing. Maybe my character was raped. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want thoughts like that in my head. Perhaps I’m afraid I’ll taint myself. Maybe there’s a well of darkness inside me – a Pandora’s Box – that I’m afraid I’ll open. At the same time, I realize that it often takes a mammoth event to change people or motivate a behavior.
Can I write about BIG SCARY topics? Should I write them? Avoid them? If I write something, be it explicit sex or a horrendous torture, will people think that’s how I think or – a part of who I am? Would it be?
If you have read/written something dark, did you have any qualms with it? If so, what?
This is the fifth and final installment of my series on fear in writing. You can find the earlier parts by clicking the links below.
Part 1 – Fear of Being Unpolished
Part 2 – Fear of Hurting Your Friends
Part 3 – Fear of Failure… or Success
Part 4 – Fear of Writing From Real Life
As a trained statistician, Shannon M. Howell, was once told she was, “too good with words to be a statistician.” So, it was no surprise when she started to write after becoming an at-home mom. After starting an epic fantasy tale, she realized that all those spreadsheets had taken a toll. Shannon continues to work on her fantasy tale, but also hones her craft on her website, where she blogs about writing and publishes flash fiction. With some luck, she hopes to have her first book, Dragon in a Jar, finished before she finds all the lost puzzle pieces. When she isn’t pretending the house will clean itself while she types, she can be found chasing her kids, pets, and husband around Northern Virginia.