How to write Dark Fantasy Novels (and shave decades off your lifespan)

Skull Party



Look at these guys. They’re dead, but still having a grand time of it. Makes me want to start hosting poker nights at my place. There’ll be just one rule: everyone has to dress up as their favorite dead person. For one night a week I can pretend I’m having a drink with Poe, Shakespeare, Attila, and Stalin. Who’d want to dress up as Stalin’s bones? I’m not sure, but I know some pretty strange people.

Ok. Look. This isn’t really a how-to article. I’m in no position to tell anyone how to do anything short of throwing footballs, kicking things, and losing at video games. I’m writing this week to take myself down a notch, put a lid on the can, and cork up my fountain of sunshine.

I write better when I’m in a terrible mood.

There. I said it. I’m sure I’m not the only one. What is it about creative people that allows them to make masterpieces out of misery? I’m not saying I’m capable of creating a masterpiece, but I think you get my point. Why are the best novels full to the brim with tragedy, suffering, and death? Why are history’s finest artists at best obsessive, at worst sociopathic? Why is human misery so appealing? Go click on a news site. Go google murder, kidnapping, terrorism, war, or Bieber. It’s a never-ending worldwide horror story. Why, why, why?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.

A few years ago, while riding a half-year span of dumb-stupid-happy, my writing crashed and burned. I couldn’t even spit out a page a week, to say nothing of my current pace of five pages per night. I was just too damn pleased with life to concentrate on dragging my readers through the abyss. It was awesome, but it sucked. I mean; if darkness renders us blind, intense sunshine does the same, right? Try seeing through your car window while driving directly at the rising sun. Can’t see a damn thing no matter how you adjust the visor, can you? You’ll think you’re on the road, and meanwhile you’re about to run over a line of kids on their way to the school bus. All the sun’s fault. Maybe vampires are on to something.

So tonight I’m sitting beside a dark-shaded lamp, surrounded by silence, floating on a cloud of gloom and doom. I’m pissed off. I’m bored. I’m willing to fight anyone who dares come through my door. My morbid sensibilities smolder inside me. It’s perfect. It really is. After I finish this blog, I’m betting on 2,500 words and a satisfying night’s sleep. Here’s the proof: right beside my ugly old recliner, my Buddha statue is smiling at me. ‘How much did you write tonight?’ I ask him. ‘Nuthin’,’ he says. ‘I’m more of an eater these days.’ And over there on the wall, the knights on their murals look peaceful in their repose. ‘You guys ever paint anything?’ I ask. They’re so damn happy they don’t even bother to answer. See what I mean? What artist does his best work while feeling bubbly? None, I tell you. You need passion, fury, wrath, and darkness. To cast a shadow, you need light, and something big to block most of it out.

They say all good things must come to an end. Whew. Thank goodness for that. If I’d have stayed on my bus to happyland, I might’ve given up writing altogether, and that would’ve been a different type of low. Maybe I’m wrong about this whole sad-makes-awesome thing. Maybe Fred Rogers and Barney the F’ing Dinosaur really are on to something, but I doubt it. How does one make beautiful, tormented art without knowing how it feels to walk alone in the night? The answer: they don’t. Sometimes, to create you must first destroy.

What’s it all mean? Well…maybe tomorrow I’ll be even gloomier than tonight. Why not? If it helps me finish my latest book and write deathier, bloodier, and grimmer stories than ever before, I’m game. I’m ok with that. What about you?

Until next week,

J Edward Neill

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  1. Maybe this is why writing loves misery:

    The Neurological Similarities Between Successful Writers And The Mentally
    Ill by Cody Delistraty

    A study conducted by Nancy Andreasen at the prestigious Iowa
    Writers’ Workshop found that 80% of the residents displayed some form of

    “One of the most important qualities [of depression] is persistence,”
    said Andreasen. “Successful writers are like prizefighters who keep on
    getting hit but won’t go down. They’ll stick with it until it’s right.”

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