Writing “In the Dark… We Hope” has been a multi-layered challenge.
First and foremost, the very premise of the book scares me. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that this book has been pestering me to write it for more than 10 years, I wouldn’t be writing it now. It’s just that I know it won’t go away if I ignore it, no matter how much I try. I’ve tried, it hasn’t gone away. So maybe it will leave me alone if I write it. That’s the theory anyway.
The next bit that makes it hard is that all of the viewpoint characters are blind. This adds a tragic and emotional element that is hard to write through. The loss of something so basic as sight is hard for anyone to deal with, but it isn’t the only thing these characters are facing. The blindness – for all that it is a major loss – is just a side effect of the real plot that’s going on. “In the Dark” isn’t about being blind. I don’t want to give away the plot so I’ll just say that it’s about something much darker. The other thing to understand is that the blindness is new to the characters. Until about a week before the book starts, they were all living perfectly normal sighted lives. Then everything goes to hell in a hand basket and they have to deal with all of that and the loss of their vision as well.
My Characters, Abby and Michael, have had to build their relationship on everything except appearances. They’ve learned to recognize each other by smell, sound, touch and even taste. That leaves me, the author, with only four senses to describe their whole world. Take a look at any book out there and you will see that most of the description is about the visual aspects of the world. We want to know what things look like. Think about how you describe things to your friends. Unless you too are blind, you probably focus on what it looks like. When was the last time you thought about what a tree smells like? How about the sound of a quiet day.
Now you’ve probably noticed that you can’t think of these things without also feeling the emotions of the last time you did that. Our emotions are tied very closely to the senses. More closely to some than others. Vision is the least emotional of the senses. Followed by hearing, touch, smell and taste in that order. So when I dive into the world of “In the Dark” I am immersed in emotion laden senses through characters who are dealing with a nasty situation. I can’t stay there for very long.
As Abby and Michael learn to navigate their world, I feel it with them. I know their frustration intimately. I also have my own frustration to deal with. I can’t fall back on my usual tricks of having characters glare at each other when they don’t like what the other has said. I can’t have them point to things in the distance. They can’t see when the others are present. I have not place in the book where I can just describe what the space looks like. As the writer I’ve had to dig through my own emotion filled sense memories to image what they would be able to know about their environment. I am also taken with them as their own sense memories flash back to other times in their lives.
If I have done my job right, my readers will experience some of this emotional roller coaster I’ve been riding for the past three months. It will be a thrill ride that scares them just enough to make it exciting. Perhaps it make them think. I just want them to feel, to smell, to taste it.