Fear of writing dark places

Getting too near the end of a story

You think you have it all down – the writing is going well, there are only a few more chapters to write/polish/revise – and you come to a standstill.

This time it’s not because the ending isn’t right, or because I can’t do this, but because I now have readers – and I’m afraid they won’t like the ending of this part of the story!

Or is it because I know the ending, and I know how much work there is to getting into Book 2, and I’m afraid of it?

The right end to a story – no holding back

It doesn’t matter: an ending HAS to be right, or it’s no ending at all. Pride’s Children was plotted out as a single volume – it has just grown in the telling because its premise is tough, and the harder the premise is to prove, the more words you will need to justify your ultimate ending. Donald Maass talks about this in Chapter 6 of The Fire in Fiction – Making the impossible real:

“The premise underlying … is going to be a hard one to swallow… [it takes] three hundred pages [of setup.]”

The trick for the writer who needs that much space to prepare readers for the ‘ridiculous premise’ is to make that setup seem completely inevitable – and keep every page of it as fascinating as she is capable of.

A tough premise is entirely believable – if done right. We accept elves and hobbits from Tolkien, love of Tara from Margaret Mitchell, unbelievable stories from the writers of thrillers, a whole medieval conspiracy from Umberto Ecco in The Name of the Rose.

But each of these premises takes time and space – we don’t believe them because the author says so, we believe them because the writer makes the case, bit by damning bit, that this is the ONLY way the story could have happened.

And in places along the way, there is the risk of the author failing, of a plot hole or a collapse of the roller coaster ride or a million other things that can derail the experience – and the writer has an abscess – of fear: can I do this? Can I keep it moving? Can I keep it REAL?

USE the fear, Luke

The answer lies not in shortening things artificially, but in asking deeper questions: Why am I doing this story this way? Does it still make sense? What was the enthusiasm that propelled me to start the darn thing, to spend so many years getting it just right? Am I truly happy with the ending?

And then, when the answer is, ‘Yes – this is the way it HAS to be,’ getting to work to make it so.

If my insecurities make me question a dark spot on the horizon – then intensify that dark spot and drag the reader through the same experience – because it is necessary to go THROUGH, not around, to get to the end.

Reader forgiveness for doing what’s necessary?

If I do it right, I will ultimately be forgiven. As I forgave Margaret Mitchell for a far worse sin: leaving all of us with our hearts breaking for Scarlett at the end of 1468 (paperback edition), and hoping against hope she would find a way to get him back. I didn’t like the reviews of Scarlett, so I didn’t read it – it was roundly despised, from what I read, for its purple prose. I don’t know how it did in the length and plotting departments. But I can remember the huge feeling of longing for Scarlett to find a way to get Rhett back after lo these many years.

When I get there, the reader must also agree that I set it up right, and that I didn’t pull punches along the way – that I know what I’m doing, and, as the writer, am in control. Tall orders.

And my job. The one I promised to do when I dared to put a story out there in public.

So, if you’re reading along this far, I crave your indulgence. I pledge to do the utmost to make you believe ALL parts of my premise. And I promise to overcome the fear that I am leading you down the garden path, because I have much more to give you once we get through this gate.

How forgiving are you?


10 thoughts on “Fear of writing dark places

  1. The DC

    I was not able to reply to your comment on my missing post,all I would get is an “error,you are commenting on a draft post that has been discarded”,and it wouldn’t allow me to leave it,so here’s what I said,copied and pasted 😛 …

    Ahhh…dang,sorry 😮 See,I had written a post on a subject I both said (in an early post) I would not,as well as had no intention of ever…a personal problem. I regretted it as soon as I’d posted it,deleted it,and it must have already sent you the notice of new post. FWIW,the situation resolved itself….well,not really,but it resolved itself as closely as it’s liable to do without an act of God,so I’ll have to be content until I either no longer must,or said act of God happens 🙂


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Post you sent me deleted. I was waiting for the blog post before reading, so had just skimmed lightly. No problem.

      We all have those moments of regret – sometimes you can cancel most of it by quick action. Didn’t mean to give you heartburn. 🙂


  2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    I know that fear of making my readers unhappy. My Hammarleeding stories have fans, and now when I write a Hammarleeding story I worry about their reaction. Enough that it tenses me up and gets in the way. I have to work at remembering Stephen King’s words: “Write with the door closed. Edit with the door open.” “Closing” my mental door is hard, but necessary. I can’t write with a sense of readers reading over my shoulder. I make my work the very best I can do for my readers. But I have to write it in the first place for me.


  3. neasha1

    My stalling comes from me staring at my computer screen not able to come up with the next paragraph because my dark place is like yours, knowing I need a book #2 and having a great idea but yet the fear of actually diving in and giving 300 pages does create a FEAR. I just need to dig down deep and do it! Thank you for sharing!



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