Struggling With Dark Writing Prompts

I write fiction, too. Often from my darker side. Here is an explanation why.

The Sad, The Sick and the Evil
by Kathy Coogan

As the writer writes, so the writer is revealed. Or so I thought. No one was going to catch me writing from dark writing prompts: sad stories, sick or evil stories. What would my neighbors think? “Catch” is the operative word here, since those stories were in me, though for a long while, denied and unwritten.

Until, cruising through the web, I found an invitation to a site which offered a prize for crime fiction. Huh, I thought. I wonder if I could do that. Operating on cruise control, my mind pondering scenarios, I attached Gracie, our elderly Olde English Sheepdog, to her leash
and began our morning walk around our mid-western, suburban neighborhood, closing the door quietly so my husband could sleep in.

As I walked my brain unconsciously and with no discernible inhibitions assembled killing plots. Crime fiction would be about killing, right? Could my character kill? What would justify it? How would she do it? Already my protagonist was a She.

As I passed my neighbors, or as one of them jogged past me, I smiled and waved and conjured weapons: knife, gun, bomb? You’d have to be bold or strong to use a knife and have access to a gun. That would rule out spontaneity. I decided I liked bomb for the distance it offered. The details could be worked out later.

I watched Gracie amble ahead of me, oblivious of the leash. Gosh, I love this dog, I thought. If anything ever happens to her, I thought. And then I stopped suddenly. Gracie took two more steps then stopped, too, when she felt the slack go out of the leash. If the Bledsoes had been looking out their window at that moment, I’m sure they would have thought I was sick.

I had it. My character could kill someone who hurt her dog. I had motive. I had a story. And I knew I could write it.

Gracie and I made a U-turn and rushed home. I was impatient as she stopped to do her business but I took the time to bag it. I hate when people leave their dog droppings. Besides it’s a crime and I am law-abiding, mostly. There was that speeding ticket and that warning.

In an hour, I wrote the first draft of The Camel’s Back, trembling when I described the death of the beloved dog and cold-hearted when I detailed the retribution. As my husband drank his morning coffee, I read the story to him. He is always my first reader, the supportive, wise ally that every writer needs.

He loved the story. He loves Gracie as much as I do. It didn’t bother him at all that the dog-killer was the husband though he wondered if we should get rid of our gas grill, just in case.

I didn’t enter this story in the crime writer’s fiction competition. But I released all my dark inhibitions with the writing of it. I realized that my imagination is a separate part of me, and not the needle on my moral compass. Because I could conjure evil and sadness, didn’t mean that I had to experience it. I was one of the lucky ones that way.

If you’d like, read The Camel’s Back now. And if you have a dark plot that you’ve hesitated to tap out, I invite you to accept this dark writing prompt: Write from your dark side. It won't kill you.

A Short Story from the Dark Side

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