As a writer, I avoid writing disturbing scenes because it’s so easy for people to misunderstand the author’s intent. (Commenter on “Writing Disturbing Scenes“)
You have mapped out your plotline, determining in cold blood which character will commit murder, which one will steal, and which one will be sexually assaulted. You are feeling slightly uncomfortable, and this squeamishness triples when you actually sit down to write out the scenes in all their gory, disgusting detail.
What is worse, you hate to admit it to yourself, but you are actually kind of enjoying it. Of course you are. No one is pulling your teeth making you write this. You sat down at your own accord and pulled up that Word document without anyone threatening your physical wellbeing, bank account, or extended relations.
Feeling guilty yet? Join the club.
I have written [disturbing/violent] scenes from both POVs. I find that it is by far easier to describe the horrors from the “recipient’s” POV. It is also by far easier to describe the recipient’s feelings. It hurts, stop, the horror. Yet, it is
when I write from the POV of the person inflicting the pain that I find the writing experience to be rewarding. (“Writing Disturbing Scenes“)
There are two important things to keep in mind when writing something especially dark:
1) It’s not you. Often writers get so involved with their characters that they begin to connect with them on a very intimate level (as is likely to happen when you spend that much time inside someone else’s head).
Tamara Hanson advises writers to “connect with your characters . . . All you need to do is stop the chatter in your mind and let the characters take over. Once you do, you will find that they are almost writing the story for you.” And sometimes these characters run wild, whether by design or by happy surprise. (see “Unreliable Narrator” for an example of how a character’s voice can legally differ from the writer’s.)
Your character, if he or she is a strong one, will have opinions that you do not. They will do things that you would not. I personally make a point not to swear often, but I am more than comfortable to write a character with a mouth like a drunk truckdriver. Because that is the character. Not me.
For example: I highly doubt that J.K. Rowling would practice or endorse the teaching methods of Dolores Umbridge. However, that did not stop her from writing one of the most hated characters in Harry Potter.
This is all well and good, you say. But regardless of whether you technically are the character or not, you are still writing them. All that darkness is still coming from you, right? Shouldn’t that worry you?
2) To quote Kelly Clarkson: “Everybody’s got a dark side”. Yes, you’ve got darkness in you. I have, as well. I am not going to try and convince you that it’s all rainbows and sunshine in there – we both know that it’s not true. For either of us.
What I suggest you do is embrace the darkness. I’m not talking about becoming Darth Vader, or even be happy about its presence. But accepting that its completely normal to have a dark side and realizing that you can utilize it to better your craft is the first step to creating amazing work.
For example: Consider some of the most enduring work in literature, whether it is Wuthering Heights or Lord of the Rings. If those authors had not reached deeply enough inside themselves to find their inner darkness and used it to form their stories, would they be as longlasting? Would they be as revered? Chances are they probably would not.
So, this is my advice to you: Regardless of the blemishes found there . . .
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart (William Wordsworth)