It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was. Hello world, Katy Lee here, and I am coming to you still off the grid. One week ago the northeast was hit with a freak October snow storm that dropped a foot of heavy snow on trees and wires, effectively bringing them down, power and all.
Total blackout. (we’re the ones in the black)
Darkness I had never experienced in my life. Storefronts and neighborhoods that used to stand out in the distance had been swallowed up into a black wall that gave no perception of depth. I drove down streets that looked nothing like they do in the daylight. It was as though everything disappeared and suddenly the world closed in and became very small. It gave new meaning to what darkness really is.
I recently was told by an editor that my description of darkness needs to be more elaborate, less clichéd. I didn’t understand when she told me my descriptions of the night sky as an “inky darkness” or “black as pitch” wouldn’t cut it. It gave no feeling to how the darkness affected my character. I needed to go deeper if I wanted my readers to feel her fear.
As much as I hated this storm and the effects that followed, I can now say, “I understand what darkness feels like.”
It’s cold. Bone-chilling to the point you can’t get warm. But I had to wonder if it was the lack of heat that shivered through me or if it was the fear of not knowing my place in the world around me anymore. Of just how far I had to walk to get somewhere or where that safe place was to put my foot down when I dared to blindly move forward.
It was also constricting. My chest felt heavy as I strained to see beyond the seemingly solid black walls around me. I actually could breathe easier if I closed my eyes—a way I could control the darkness, instead of it controlling me.
After a few days of the blackout I could feel myself growing tired, physically and emotionally. I was trying to be upbeat and optimistic, pushing through like everyone else, but something was changing inside of me. It was as though my own inner light was being snuffed out by cold, wet fingers. Even in the daytime, when the sun was warming the sky, I had this dread looming over me. A dread that niggled in the back of my mind telling me the darkness was coming back. I couldn’t escape it. I watched the clock tick the daylight hours away, knowing what was inevitably coming.
With streetlights, brightly lit storefronts, cars with high beams, it is no wonder how we can forget what true darkness feels like—and how my descriptions of it have fallen flat in my stories. Darkness is not a color to describe. It is not time of day.
Darkness is a state of being. Of being cold and constricted; of being fearful of the unknown around you. And it is a sense of hopelessness of ever having anything better.
Before electricity came to be, people understood what darkness was. They lived it every day. The idea of light wasn’t just a pleasant invention to make life easier. It was a beacon to their freedom; an age of enlightenment and understanding. An end to their fears. I, as a Christian, understand Jesus’ words, “I am the light.” more now than ever before. Because a world without light is a world without hope.
The Unlocked Secret: As writers we want our readers to feel every emotion our characters do, even if that feeling is hopelessness. Especially if that feeling is hopelessness. Don’t miss the opportunity by using flat descriptions. Go deeper; experience it yourself if you have to. Although I don’t recommend causing a blackout to accomplish it. That’s not a good way to make friends.
Question: What are some descriptions you have used to describe the darkness? How do you give power to your stories?