The Journal: How to Write Into the Dark

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: How to Write Into the Dark
* A Recommendation
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“My students and I are currently working on finding a concrete theory of time travel with multiple histories that is fully compatible with general relativity.” Barak Shoshany, Assistant Professor, Physics, Brock University

“Courses in prosody, rhetoric and comparative philology would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in mathematics, natural history, geology, meteorology, archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.” W. H. Auden via The Passive Voice

Topic: How to Write Into the Dark

Wow. This is a very long post. Almost 2000 words. But I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

If you missed the previous post, it might be a good idea to read that one first. It and this one go together. If you didn’t see it or if you want a refresher, you can find it here.

First, a disclaimer: If you are part of the statistically miniscule percentage of writers who have suffered some sort of physical, emotional or psychic injury or affliction that renders you literally unable to access you creative subconscious or to call on it at will, then you will not be able to write into the dark.

But everyone else has a choice. If you are able to overcome unreasoning, unrealistic fears — meaning fears with zero consequences or repercussions — and shove aside all the silly myths that started with non-writers and perpetuated over the years, then you can at least try to write into the dark.

An Excercise

1. To start, sit down at your keyboard with a POV (point of view) character in mind. The character is in a setting (it’s hard to imagine a character who is not in a setting) and has a problem of some sort.

Note that this problem probably isn’t “the” problem of the story. This is just to get you started. This problem might be something as small as an untied shoelace or that the character forgot his briefcase or his gunbelt or his phaser pistol.

2. Whatever the problem is, whomever the character is and wherever the setting is, write the opening.

3. When you’ve finished the opening, if it grabs you, keep writing. Just write the next sentence and the next and the next until the character(s) lead you through to the end of the story.

If it’s a short story (a story about One Event) it will end after a thousand or two thousand or up to around ten thousand words.

If it’s a novella or novel (so it’s about several events that are interconnected in some way) it will go on longer.

As an aside, does the length of the story matter? No. If you’re writing into the dark, allow the story to dictate how long or short it is. Your job is only to keep writing the next sentence that occurs to you. The characters will let you know when the story, shorter or longer, is over.

So how do you write the opening?

First, don’t make up anything on your own. Trust your creative subconscious. Follow your POV character around and write down what happens and what he or she says and does. (To avoid awkward constructions, I’ll use “he” for the rest of this post.)

The opening of most stories is generally 300 to 600 words, but it can run as long as is necessary. No matter how short or long it is, be sure to ground the reader in the setting. That’s the purpose of the opening. A reader grounded in the setting is a reader drawn into the story.

Your character is as real as anyone else is, and probably more attentive because he, like you, will want to ground the reader. The character will notice the setting in which he’s situated. Your job as the recorder (writer) is to describe what the POV character notices (not what you the writer notice) about the setting. Filter every description through the POV character’s physical senses.

For example, what does the POV character see? Is it early morning or later in the day? Is it night? (Things look different at night.) But don’t limit your character to only the sense of sight like so many writers do.

Are there any nearby sounds? Intermediate sounds? Distant sounds? Is the air cool or warm? Cold or hot? Wind or no wind? The character might feel the wind on his skin physically or tugging at his clothes. He might also hear it. Finally, it might also deliver an emotional sense (a “feeling”) of forboding or joy or whatever else.

If there are rain clouds in the distance, he might both see and smell them (on the wind). With rain comes sensations of sight, sound, smell and feel, both physical and possibly emotional. Only considering the physical sense of touch, there’s the physical impact of raindrops on the skin or clothing and the temperature of air and raindrops. Not all rain is cold.

Are the sharp crack of lightning and the rolling peal of thunder that follows rain accompanied by the taste of ozone on the air? Does that smell spur a childhood memory of the POV character being inside his grandmother’s kitchen on a stormy day and the smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven and their mouth-watering flavor?

And so on.

Which brings me to the only legitimate answer to the question, “How much description is too much?”

1. No amount of description from the POV character is too much. If the POV character notices (sees, hears, smells, tastes, or feels, physically or emotionally) something in the setting, write it. (If you’re thinking, Unless it doesn’t have anything to do with the story, check in with yourself. If you’re writing into the dark, you don’t know the story or where it will go. Only the character knows the story. So again, if the POV character notices something in the setting, write it.

2. But ANY description you write that doesn’t come through the POV character is too much. If the POV character himself didn’t notice it, don’t write it. The writer should never intrude on the scene.

3. Don’t allow your conscious, critical mind to intrude even after the fact. This is kind of an extension of 2 above.

For example, if your character included all of the description in my examples above in the opening, a small voice might say something like, “You should take some of that out. It’s too much description. Why would he remember his grandmother’s kitchen and chocolate-chip cookies just because of a rainstorm?”

That’s your critical voice trying to protect you by stalling your writing. How can I know it’s your critical voice and not the voice of your creative subconscious?

▪The voice of the critical mind is ALWAYS negative — “take that out” “too much” “Why would he remember” — whereas

▪The voice of the creative subconscious is always positive. The creative subconscious just wants to play and have fun.

When you’ve written the opening, it will either grab you (interest you) or it won’t.

If it doesn’t interest you, it isn’t wasted. Anytime you’re putting new words on the page it’s good practice, but it’s nothing more important than that. So just toss it out. (If you were building something with wood, a hammer and nails and you came across a bent nail, would you try to fix it? No. You’d throw it out and pick another nail. The same principal applies here.)

Once you throw out the opening that didn’t work, either write a new opening with the same character, problem, and setting (if you really like that character-problem-setting combination) or write a different opening with a different character, problem, and setting.

But as I wrote in number 3 under “An Exercise” above, if the opening DOES grab you, keep writing. Just write the next sentence and the next and the next until the character(s) lead you through to the end of the story.

That’s actually part of the allure and excitement of writing into the dark. Nothing is outlined or plotted or planned out. But by simply writing an opening, you might find yourself finishing a short story a few hours later or finishing a novel a few weeks later. What could be better than that?

As you’re writing, now and then, you might get “stuck” for a moment. Usually that will happen as a result of your old fears resurfacing when you realize you don’t know where the story’s going or what will happen next.

No problem. Take a deep breath and don’t worry about it. You might even tell your critical mind, out loud, to shut up and leave you alone. (Yep, I’ve done that.) But no matter how you choose to shove your critical mind aside, do so.

Your story isn’t something that needs involvement from the critical mind. It isn’t life or death or even critical. It isn’t even important except as a few minutes’ entertainment for someone. Seriously, it’s just a stupid story. Nothing earth shaking.

If you REALLY want to know what happens next, and if you want the story to remain authentic, just write the next sentence that occurs to you, then the next and the next and the next. Very soon the story will be flowing again, your fingers will be flying over the keyboard, and the story will literally unfold for the very first time right before your eyes.

That’s how you write into the dark. You let go of all the myths that storytelling is difficult and something you can’t possibly do on your own. You overcome your silly, unreasoning fears, and you Just Write the Story.

The only “sure” things are death, taxes, and techniques you prove for yourself

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, the only way to be absolutely certain writing into the dark works is to go all-in and give it an honest try. Please don’t take my word for it. Please try it for yourself.

But don’t do it for the sake of appearances. If your attempt isn’t all or nothing, it’s worthless and a waste of time. So if you can’t give the technique an honest try, don’t bother. You will fail, and when you come out the other side you still won’t know whether it could work for you.

So with those cautions firmly in place, I hope you’ll take a chance. Once you are determined to give it an honest try, writing into the dark really is easy, fun, and exhilirating.

A Recommendation

If you’re tired of media that’s heavily biased in one direction or another, I recommend 1440, an “impartial, comprehensive news source,” where they “scour 100+ sources so you don’t have to. Culture, science, sports, politics, business, and more—all in a five-minute read.”

The first article in “Of Interest” is one I found in the “Etcetera” section of the free 1440 daily newsletter. In that same section, if I wanted, I could “Explore a Martian crater in high definition,” “Listen to a baby bear purring,” or any of several other experiences.

And that’s just in the “Etcetera” section, which appears at the end of the newsletter after stories and links to stories in politics, world events, culture, science, sports and so on.

And did I mention it’s both unbiased and free? To check it out, click

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Time travel could be possible…” at Extremely interesting and well-written article

See “Author Avanti Centrae Leaks Top-Secret Marketing Plans” at

See “What is a Philologist?” at

See “Praenomen” at I didn’t personally care for the post, but PG’s take is humorous.

See “Mentor Focus Media Kits” at Some good marketing info in the post.

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.