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Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Light, The Dark, and the Gritty

I'll admit it up front. I don't thing most of my stories, save for a handful of short stories, are gritty. There are dark parts here and there, but few have accused me of writing horror. I can count on one hand how many dark horror short stories I've written. Most of what I've written is a lighter, funner, and punctured with humor. Even my one zombie story, "Confessions of a Zombie's Wife," is more funny than scary.

So I've begun to think about what makes a story dark or gritty. Honestly, dark is easier to get. It is a story that highlight's evil in its fullness. Whether through a creepy monster or a deranged mad man, evil is brought to life. For the writer who is a Christian, with the hope of contrasting it to the light, and ultimately overcome by the Light.

But gritty is a little harder for me to define. Judging by what some Christian authors have said, gritty is any story where the characters cuss or have sex. The more graphic, the grittier the story is.

But I'm not so sure. Another definition of gritty is making the story more realistic, which for some seems to again center around adding cussing and sex. Sure, realistic is also getting your facts correct, avoiding plot holes, and believable dialog, but few would contend those things necessarily make a story gritty. Yet it would seem many would equate gritty as being more true to life.

But I'm still not so sure. Seems something else is missing from the definition.

Being gritty appears to be a good thing. When a reviewer says a story is gritty, that is usually a compliment. Often gritty is followed by words like "compelling" and "raw emotion." Therein probably lies the root of it.

One of the objectives of a good novelist is to engage the reader in experiencing those raw emotions. The more the reader feels their power, the more real the story becomes for them, and the grittier it will feel. That would be true whether we are talking about death or sex.

But wait. There's more! You can't take a happy moment and infuse it with gritty raw emotions without muting the joy of that emotion. Likewise, interjecting joy into a mother grieving over the loss of her son would lessen the impact and believability of that moment emotionally.

So it isn't merely a raw emotion, but gritty is experiencing the raw emotions of darkness. Much as bliss or joy is experiencing the raw emotions of light. Both are realistic within their domains.

The astute reader may have picked up on my title's play on another well known title. A movie called, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." One of my favorites. You can see the link there as well. The Ugly is the result of the Bad, not the Good. Likewise, the gritty is a result of the dark, not the light.

In short, anything that portrays graphically the dark is gritty. Take for example the movie "Saving Private Ryan." I didn't watch it, mainly because of what other people said about it's graphicness of war. From what I've been told, that is gritty.

A more nuanced comparison would be the Star Trek series and the most recent version of Battlestar Galactica. The former, as conceived by Gene Roddenberry, was an optimistic view of human evolution. People tended to get along better, and man had grown past emotions like greed and bigotry. So much so, man no longer worked for money as in a capitalistic system, but exhibited the epitome of a communist society where everyone works for their own betterment while all needs are covered by the society.

Meanwhile, in Battlestar Galactica's universe, people are operating with all sorts of pure and impure motives, trying to get the best of each other. Oh sure, Star Trek had some of that. Especially in the later series. They discovered you had to have some conflict to have a good story. But those were usually considered to be an aberration. Not the norm.

So by and large, Star Trek has been criticized for not being gritty enough. That is, not conveying a compelling emotional sense of man's depravity, and therefore not as "realistic" feeling.

They say that a writer is the worst judge of his own work. So what say you, those who have read my stories? Do you consider any of them gritty? Or lighter fare? What is your definition of gritty?

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