//for darkness shows the stars

Deborah commented on my last post with something that I felt deserved a whole post to itself – but before I continue, let me introduce you to Skimm. My friend Jessica brought this to my attention, I signed up, and I’m in love – it sends the important news updates to your email in a concise, entertaining way and it won’t depress you. I promise. Onward.

Deborah, a long-time reader and fantastically awesome person herself, said that my post made her think about my novels, which she loves, but she wants me to explain all of the ‘darkness and pain and feels-shredding-ness’ in the novels. She’s curious as to why my novels have turned that way, and my reason for it. (She also emphatically stated ‘I LOVE YOU AND I LOVE YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR CHARACTERS,’ but she was wondering what happened to my more heart-friendly stories.)

I thought that was a great question, so Deb, here is why. Have you ever gone outside at night, but the light from a nearby shopping mall or grocery store has made it too bright, and you can’t really see the stars because the sky isn’t dark enough? Most people have. But have you ever stepped outside on a really clear, black night and been able to see the Big Dipper? Orion? The Little Dipper? Maybe even star-clusters you hadn’t noticed before? It’s incredible. It makes you appreciate the stars, not the darkness of the night, and that’s why.

I don’t like lukewarm or mediocre stories where nothing terrible happens and nothing super great happens and everything is okay. Those stories leave a dusty taste in my mouth and the only impact they have is to assure me I don’t want to write that way. The stories that affect me and stay with me and break me down and put me back together better than I was are the painful stories, not the easy ones. While sometimes I wrote lighthearted romps like the Paper books, those are usually side-dishes. I write those to keep me sane while writing darker novels.

I write that way because I want to change people, not just make them smile. Because writing that way changes me. Because I crave emotional depth and spiritual contrasts and battles between evil and good. Because I want to see everything clearer, and maybe other people will, too. Not everyone wants this. Plenty of people prefer light beach reads or something simply to make them smile and laugh and while I adore humor (it’s in even my darkest of novels), I’m not interested in that.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

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23 thoughts on “//for darkness shows the stars

  1. Hey, I made a reference to that scene from The Two Towers on my blog recently, too. ;)

    It seems like this is a conversation that’s going to keep on building as time goes by. It’s already developed beyond the first little post on Facebook a while back.

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  2. Bless this post and bless you. Much of the reason I love your novels and Batman is because of this. I just never could explain it so concisely. Keep up the /amazing/ work, Mirriam. <3

    (Also, the Skimm is amazing and I read it every morning and I think you'll continue to love it.)

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  3. I don’t read “dark” fiction reads any more. Maybe it’s because of where I am in my life. Or maybe I’ve consumed my quota of “dark fiction books” or maybe it’s because of Philippians and being commanded to think on what is true, good, lovely, and of good report. Maybe it’s all of the above. But I’m done with dystopians, I’m done with gritty dark depressing fantasy. I’m even done with Noir detectives.

    That’s not to say that I’m done with action or adventure or space operas or science fiction or bright punk (kissing cousin to steam and cyber thank you very much) but I am definitely done with the dark stuff whatever the genre.

    It could also be that I’m reading more biographies. And the biographies I’ve read recently, are dark. One of them belongs to Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame. I have fallen head over heels for Eric Liddell (move over Patrick of Ireland I’ve got a new hero).

    You know the whole quote from Eric is basically this “God made me for /China/, and He made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure.” After winning a race he shouldn’t have run for Scotland at the Olympics, he went onto become a missionary in China. World war broke out and Eric was caught and put into an internment camp. He so impressed the people running the camp they put him in charge of the kids there. He was married, and had a daughter back in Scotland, and England worked hard to get him released in a prisoner exchange. But Eric gave up his place in the exchange to a woman in the camp who had become pregnant. He also suffered horribly from brain-searing migraines, and didn’t tell anyone. He died in the camp, killed by the brain tumor that was causing the migraines.

    His life looks from this side of eternity, like a very dark place for a very long time. There’s no happy ending for him on this side of the curtain. But his life has changed mine. This is the kind of darkness, that lets me see the stars.

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    1. *nodding* Like I said, I don’t think it’s for everyone – and I constantly think of that Philippians verse and it’s largely why I /do/ write what I do, so all those things are shown as the best.

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      1. Well, and you very well may not write this particular way forever and a day either. Authors go through periods of writing different ways. ;) Just like readers go through different phrases of reading different things.

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          1. phases usually are xD. I mean some artists phases span decades. But once they change, their work is labelled a ”phase” or a ”period” and all art changes, evolves, falls in on itself like an inter-dimensional ( auto correct and I fought for five minutes over that word, it wanted interdenominational for whatever reason . ..) paradigm shift

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  4. Aaahh, thanks for this post and addressing it, Mirri! *huggles you* I understand what you mean, and YES darkness shows the stars and I’ve said similar things myself. :) (I love that LotR quote.)

    Also I just want you to know that Paper Crowns is one of my top-ten favorite books of EVER (along with things like LotR, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Gammage Cup, The Ordinary Princess, etc.), so I’m glad you write such things to keep you sane. XD

    But that being said, I DO love books like your Salvation series and so on… (I think those books are my favorites of yours besides the Paper books, and I love all of your books regardless) I just… can’t read too many of really dark books too often/all the time, otherwise they affect my life in a bad way because books ARE my life and if they make me sad, even in a good way, I usually don’t recover for a long time. :P

    So yes! I understand what you’re saying; I just sometimes feel a tiny bit as though life is bad enough without books making life worse by making us feel bad — like what you said about politics the other day. It doesn’t mean those things aren’t REAL but focusing on them when you can’t do anything about it and it just stresses you out is not always healthy for my soul at least. :P

    Anyways, this post makes me understand you much better. There are all kinds of people in the world, and we all come at things in a different way, which is as it should be. I’m glad to understand your way a little better. :) THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING THIS. *hugs*

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    1. Oh! And I forgot — another thing I wanted to say about the LotR quote, is that it stresses that THE DARKNESS MUST PASS. So I like my dark books to have hope, and to have happy endings, and show that good triumphs over evil etc. :)

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  5. I love “the Paper ones”!! But, your others are just different. Each has a purpose, not just for entertaining, but to dig us deeper into ourselves, or deeper into moral truths. I love that about you. You care about others, and you want your writings to touch- truly touch- and change and heal and help and remind and…. all kinds of other adjectives. Your purpose is this. It doesn’t mean that everyone is called to do as you do, but… I get it and appreciate it so much. Thank you for being you and letting God use you to do His work through your talents. ((Hug))

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  6. Girl, I don’t know how you do it, but you ALWAYS manage to put my thoughts into beautiful words.

    When I was little I was scared to write dark things, I didn’t know if I was *supposed* to. But as my writing life grew, so did I. I learned. Fluffy books don’t help me, they don’t change my world. It’s the deep, raw, emotional ones that make a difference in my life. I always want my stories to have a gleam of hope, but the light can only really shine when it’s dark. Life isn’t full of rainbows and peaches, and I don’t want my stories to either.

    With that said, I do love me some happy, nonsense books. Your Paper books were some of the greatest things I ever read and I smile every time I think about them. I just don’t want ALL books to be that way. I LOVE that there’s a broad range. I think there should be all kinds of books, we’re all different after all. I totally understand dark books aren’t for everyone. I had to grow up to appreciate them myself. But now that I’m older, I want books that make me FEEL, to make me grow, and, as you put so beautifully, to remind me that it’s in the darkness where we see the stars.

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  7. *creeps onto your blog for the very first time*

    I LOVE this, and it so perfectly expresses what I’ve always wanted to say about my own novels. I wouldn’t ever write something dark without hope, but all that darkness is the way I process things and see the stars, as you put it so beautifully. I’ve found that my style has veered much more in that direction over the past year and a half or so, and writing has been a lot easier. Thank you for this!

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  8. Very true. Most of my stories aren’t especially dark… they tend more toward the emotional, mix-of-happy-and-sad side. But I totally understand what you’re saying. :)
    Also a very good way to work in a Sam quote. ;) He definitely deserves his name.

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  9. this post was beautiful! and the LoTR quote could not have been more perfect! its one of my very favorites and for me is just filled to the brim with Hope. loved this whole post <3

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  10. Beautifully written post! You’ve expressed why I like to dig deep and explore dark shadows in my own writing (although I haven’t yet reached into the darkest ones…I don’t think I’m ready yet)–and also why I read some darker, star-filled books. ^_^ But like Deb said, there are times in my life when I just cannot read dark stories. In my roughest seasons, it’s too much for my heart, and at that point reading is escapism for me. BUT. Most of the time, I absolutely LOVE the sort of tale that shows me the stars. And yours have shown me some gorgeous constellations, Mirriam. <3 Blessings!

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  11. […] I’ve run across a very small handful of books that I consider to be “perfect”. The more popular on the list would be The Lord of the Rings, The Penderwicks, and The Horse and His Boy. But a lot of them most people have never heard of. Howl’s Moving Castle, The Gammage Cup, The Ordinary Princess, Prince Valiant (YES!), Searching for Dragons, The Kestrel, The Boggart, The Reluctant Dragon, more recently Broken Glass in the Five Glass Slippers collection, and near the very top a book that’s not even PUBLISHED yet, Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal. […]

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  12. Beautiful post, Mirriam! I agree that darkness definitely shows the stars and I think it’s a very important thing to include in fiction, provided that there is hope to be found in the end. Like you, I’ve never really been one for fluffy beach reads (although I do LOVE adorable MG books). Weightier fiction is what makes me more satisfied as a reader because it resonates with me and really causes me to think. It makes books memorable. Some of my novel ideas are quite dark, although hope also shines through, and I’m nervous about writing them. But I think that’s a good thing. Doesn’t everybody say that you know you’re doing this writing thing right when writing this story scares you? I’m trying hard to keep that in mind as I write.

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