I subscribe to the StoryPeople “Story of the Day.” If you don’t know who StoryPeople are, you should really check them out. ‘Cause they’re awesome.
Last week, one of the stories was called “Before Dawn,” and read:
“I’ve always liked the time before dawn because there’s no one around to remind me who I’m supposed to be, so it’s easier to remember who I am.”
Being a night owl, I liked this one. There is absolutely something about the quiet, when everyone else is asleep, that is very centering. Reading this quote I could hear Sky Masterson singing “My Time of Day” in the back of my head.
But the story also made me think about the less literal moments before dawn that show who people really are.
A couple of months ago I was reading a post by the Authoress on the merits of Blake Snyder’s “beat sheet.” It’s a tool designed for screenplays, but can also definitely be helpful in mapping out a novel. I’m trying it for the book I’m working on and finding it very helpful. But that’s not the point. The point is that the twelfth “beat” is called “Dark Night of the Soul.” This is the point in the story were everything seems lost and the heroes seem beaten. It’s Han Solo encased in carbonite as Leia and Chewbacca are led away by Stormtroopers and Luke is getting his hand cut off. Basically, it’s when the mean writer decides to torture the poor characters in the bleakest way possible. It’s kind of depressing and entirely necessary to the story.
This is something I’ve read in a lot of different writer or agent blogs. As an author, you have to be willing to be cruel to the characters you create. Otherwise, you’ll never show the reader what your character is really made of. Because it’s when everything is at its worst that you really see who someone is.
Now, in real life, some of the dark moments are truly life-altering-ly horrible, but they can also occur on a smaller level. You can learn a lot about a person by how they react to the small things that pile up on not so great days – work frustrations, laundry coming out of the drier damp, someone cutting you off on the road, dinner getting all burn-y. All those little things that alone don’t really matter, but when strung together in a twenty four hour period can drive you to the far edge of your good mood.
In stories, there isn’t always as much time to develop these sorts of insights, so the “dark nights” are often really dark. This can just mean that the worse thing these characters could imagine is happening, or it can cross right on over into apocalyptic. And when it’s all said and done, you get to see which characters fade to the background, which fight the good fight, which come out heroes and which small number are even more than that.
So, if you're reading, watching, or writing stories and getting bummed about how hard the characters have it (the way I sometimes do), know that this is just their "dark night." They'll come out of it stronger and if they finally make it to their happy ending, they'll have earned it.
‘Cause remember, Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez was just a normal kid (albeit very good at baseball) until the Beast escaped. Then he became a legend.