Fear, Faith, and Writing Dark Fiction

Several years ago, someone once asked me how I resolved having faith in God with writing dark fiction. Much of the fiction I’ve written over the years has put characters in dark, hopeless corners where death, either their own or someone they loved, or worse was imminent. It was a question I myself had already wrestled with quite a bit before being formally presented with it. After all, the point could easily have been argued that dark fiction finds itself at odds with a God of love and grace and deliverance. I fudged my way through the answer by talking about art and gifts from God and using said gifts to give Him glory, all the while not being entirely sure I believed that answer myself.

I think I have a better response now, or at least part of one. I think I understand myself a little bit better now than I did then.

I’ve been at odds with my faith for a good many years now. I’ve resisted it, run from it, denied it even — and all the while I’ve been running in the dark, lost and alone. I’ve always been fearful. To some extent I think that’s human nature. But in denying my faith, I lost whatever grounding I had to face my fears. I effectively cast myself off from the shore in a leaky rowboat with no motor or oars or any other way to steer. I consigned myself to the storm, even as that was the very thing of which I was most afraid. I forgot about the thing that gave me strength, that got me through each and every day. I forgot about my faith, and I forgot — deliberately — about my God.

So I think it’s safe to say that I have such an affinity for dark fiction because I harbor a lot of fear. Faith helps me cope with my fear, albeit imperfectly. I’m human, after all, and weak. I’m finding my way — slowly — back to faith, but my grip is tenuous. I suspect it always has been. Writing helps me work through my fears. It lays them out for all to see. And in so doing, writing robs my fears of at least some of their power. It’s a bit like talking about a nightmare the next morning while sitting in the full light of day. The fear that woke you just hours earlier in the deep dark of night now seems like little more than silly nonsense with the sun beating down on your face. Writing dark fiction is, for me, a bit like that. It allows me to present my fear in a safe context, to process it in a way that helps me cope with it. And even if the outcome of the story isn’t a happy one for my characters, it at least allows me to put words to the things that most bother me in the night shadows. It helps me to see that maybe those fears really aren’t so scary after all.

My faith is still very weak, I admit. I locked it away pretty deep inside my heart. I suspect I will be some time in strengthening it, longer still in marrying it with the way I write stories. But it’s a journey, and one I’ve long tried to avoid. I don’t like pain, after all, and life is nothing if not painful. But I’ve put this particular fear to words now, denied it a bit of its power over me, and am trying to learn to have faith again in a God I’ve all but forgotten that things will turn out all right in the end.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is that step.

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