Dec 19, 2011

Using the dark

We are three days before solstice (72 hours but who's counting?) and down to around five hours of daylight. By daylight, I mean the sky lightens a bit to a kind of twilight. At my house, Pioneer Peak effectively blocks the low sunrise except for an hour or two each day. Which means we get very little direct sunlight right now, and we have to be looking south to see it.

Downside: Most of us sleep a lot this time of year. Also, Alaskans don't produce as much vitamin D which means our bones don't heal as quickly as yours in the Lower 48. (I found this out when one of my kids broke an ankle.) And some get SAD - seasonal affective disorder from the lack of light. I've never experienced this but people who do generally leave the far north within a few years.

There are upsides to this time of year. *head scratching* No, really, there are. I'll get to them in a minute. I want to stay with the downside because it's when reality - like the writing life - fails to meet our expectations that our story begins.

Before I moved here, I had this picture of life in a cozy cabin, log fire roaring, deep in the wilderness with moose for neighbors. We'd ski every weekend, and my husband would bring home caribou bacon. We explore the backcountry on our four-wheelers. Our children would be rugged, able to handle a rifle and skin a large animal with their other hand.

Reality is a bit different. We skipped the cabin in favor of a reasonable commute to work. We don't have time to ski nearly as often as I'd like, and my husband has yet to go hunting. We do have four-wheelers but my youngest has been too young (until now) to go very far.  Our children are typical kids, although all of them have been on skates since they were four and they never get cold. (Seriously. All three have been known to go jump on the trampoline in a T-shirt when it's zero degrees outside.)

So - dreams on one hand. Reality on the other. And the gap between desire and fact is the stuff of fiction.  Because it's only when things aren't perfect that we recognize what is. 

It's only when the lights go out that you know what you're missing.

When this happens in your writing (and it should!) does your character react with disappointment or reconciliation? With anger or surprise? With hatred or love? Does the gap change your MCs heart or harden it? What thought processes or personalities naturally lean toward one or the other? And what signals do they leave to allow you to guess?

As writers, we are supposed to be students of human nature. As humans, we use one sense above all others - our eyes - to figure out the world. But in the dark, you're forced to rely on the others: feeling, touching, tasting, smelling. The dark teaches you what stuff you're made of.

This is where your writing gets good. It gets hard, but if you persevere, it gets good. You'll start to notice the upside of being in this place.

Where I live, if we happen to catch the sun after it rounds the mountain and before it falls below the horizon, the light is ethereal. A shaft of rainbow in the black. A glittering ray of heaven showing off the muscular curves of Pioneer Peak. Or, on clear nights, the northern lights move like liquid dancers across the sky.

here's a certain kind of beauty that only comes in the dark. Wait for it. Be ready to use it when it comes.


Cassie Mae said...

What great advice to make my book stronger, and something I can totally relate to! Those pictures are stunning!

Nancy Thompson said...

Living in Seattle, I totally get where you're coming from.

Happy holidays, Melodie!

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

This is honestly one of the best posts I've ever read. LOVE it, Melodie.

I live in Washington State, but on the "sunny side" of the mountains. This winter we've had two weeks of straight fog, though, and I find myself, for some reason, constantly thinking of Alaskans and wonder how you guys are doing! I've been counting down the days to winter's solstice, so I can only imagine how you all must be feeling!

I love how you tied this in to writing, though. I'm going to keep this in mind when my MCs go through hard times. These kind of analogies really work for me. :)

Botanist said...

Five hours of "daylight"? Blech! I see little enough daylight this time of year as it is, I can't imagine coping with even less. But what a wonderful image to teach about writing. Thank you.

Lisa L. Regan said...

Beautiful post! Excellent points.

Carrie Butler said...

Wow, Melodie! You knocked this post out of the park. Well done! :)

P.S. Those photos are gorgeous!