Making your angst hurt: the power of lighthearted scenes. 

I’m incredibly disappointed with the trend in stories (especially ‘edgy’ YA novels) to bombard the reader with traumatic situations, angry characters, and relationship drama without ever first giving them a reason to root for a better future. As a reader…

  • I might care that the main siblings are fighting if they had first been shown to have at least one happy, healthy conversation. 
  • I might cry and rage with the protagonist if I knew they actually had the capacity to laugh and smile and be happy.
  • I might be hit by heavy and dark situations if there was some notion that it was possible for this world to have light and hope and joy to begin with.

Writers seem to forget that their reader’s eyes adjust to the dark. If you want to give your reader a truly bleak situation in a continually dim setting, you have to put them in pitch blackness. But if you just shine a light first, the sudden change makes the contrast appear substantial.

Show your readers what light means to your character before taking it away. Let the reader bond with the characters in their happy moments before (and in between) tearing them apart. Give readers a future to root for by putting sparks of that future into the past and the present. Make your character’s tears and anger mean something.

Not only will this give your dark and emotional scenes more impact, but it says something that we as humans desperately, desperately need to hear. 

Books with light amidst the darkness tell us that while things are hard and hurt, that we’re still allowed to breathe and hope and live and even laugh within the darkness.

We as humans need to hear this more often, because acting it out is the only way we stop from suffocating long enough to make a difference.

So write angst, and darkness, and gritty, painful stories, full of treacherous morally grey characters if you want to. But don’t forget to turn the light on occasionally.

Support Bryn’s ability to provide writing advice by reading their debut novel, an upbeat fantasy about a bloodthirsty siren fighting to return home while avoiding the lure of a suspiciously friendly and eccentric pirate captain!

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