Sunday, March 20, 2016

Light and Dark

This post will go live on the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, a day that sees an equal number of hours of daylight and nighttime. Which prompted me to consider the whole idea of balancing light and dark in our writing.

a spring blossom in the sun
a spring blossom in the sun
I am in the middle of re-reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This is a gorgeous, sweeping, funny, odd book that, by most "rules" of genre fiction these days, should never have made it to publication (800 plus pages, with odd spellings, like "shew" instead of "show," and footnotes!). As I read it for the second time, I am paying close attention to the ways Clarke creates tension between the light and dark in magic and in human nature.

She uses scene changes, points of view, perspectives, language, imagery, and, perhaps what is striking me most this reading, she uses setting to express this tension. Natural landscapes and human-made ones reflect the mood of the story: rain, fog, building materials, furniture, objects. Often the same object or natural element in itself holds both light and dark: the way a rose bush grows, or the silver crown that the servant wears to show both his kingly nature and his subservience to the fairy who has charmed him.

Unrelenting light and unrelenting dark make poor stories (though perhaps wonderful hymns, poems, songs); stories need to weave us through both sides of our nature, illuminating both. As you read or write on this day of equal light and dark, ponder how you can incorporate them in your work.

Elizabeth Fountain is the author of An Alien's Guide to World Domination and You, Jane. Her novels and stories try to show how our light side redeems our dark side, and how our dark side makes our light a little more interesting. You can find more of her work on her own blog and web site, here.