Reality Skimming

Dialogue #4: Krista D. Ball (1 of 2)

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Dark & Light

Lynda Williams is a strong proponent of optimistic art, but others believe that the dark side is necessary in Speculative Fiction. In how much detail should unsavory acts/thoughts be described, and to what purpose? Are there situations in which a reader may need be offended in order to convey a greater message? The same dark themes also seem to pervade contemporary young adult speculative fiction. What are the issues surrounding this?


Krista D. Ball According to her mother, Krista D. Ball tells lies for a living. She is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. Krista incorporates as much historical information into her fiction as possible, mostly to justify her B.A. in British History. Krista enjoys all aspects of the writing and publishing world, and has been a magazine intern, co-edited four RPG books, self-published several short stories and a novella series, and has been a slush reader for a small Canadian press. She has also written a non-fiction blogging guide and is currently writing a non-fiction historical book for authors called, "What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank." Whenever she gets annoyed, she blows something up in her fiction. Regular readers of her work have commented that she is annoyed a lot.

Next week...

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). Part 7 of the Okal Rel Saga, Healer's Sword, arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT.

Krista D. Ball: Dark & Light

Many people like to think of humans as inherently good creatures. We have the capabilities for such kindness and compassion that, underneath our dark natures, there must be something that makes us want to be good.

I do not believe this.

I look at the world and see a struggle between good and evil, what is right and what is selfish, and the disregard for humanity. Unless raised to be compassionate, caring, and an upstanding member of the global community, people need to be taught how to be such individuals. It's no wonder that fiction reflects that darkness.

"Gorn Porn" is a phrase coined a lot to protest the extreme usage of violent and gory scenes with no other purpose than the gross people out. Those have their place and readerships, but I don't think it's really necessary in the bulk of mainstream fiction. A vicious beating of a beloved secondary character can have readers in tears with very little details, just as a graphic blow-by-blow (as it were) of what's happening. Less can be more.

Then there are times that more is indeed "more". I recall In The Heat of The Night, with the language used by Chief Gillespie. I was shocked, having been raised in a sheltered, religious home and school. In fact, the teacher asked if anyone was comfortable doing it because he was not. There was only one volunteer and I remember even he turned red a few times.

Could that book have had less language, less hate, less racism? Of course. Would it have impacted me the same way? Doubtful. It's twenty years later and I still recall that book, that language, that feeling of anger in my gut. I needed to be offended so that I could look past my own nose and see the world as it was, not as it could be.

In Road to Hell, I have a scene that many people have found offensive and disturbing. After a frantic hunt, Captain Francis finds her missing crew member: tied up in a vent shaft with part of her face burned off in strips. It offended people because of the choice Francis makes to murder the man who did it. It wasn't that she murdered him - that didn't seem to bother people, more than the reason. She did it to protect herself and not to avenge her friend.

And that pleases me to no end. That should offend people. That should make readers angry. It should make people talk. Because we often see injustice in our daily lives and do nothing to stop it because we are protecting ourselves. I think people see themselves in Katherine when she fires her weapon: they remember all of the times they sold someone down the river to cover their own behinds...and it makes them angry.

The desire to balance the reality with the reader's tolerance gets even trickier when dealing with young adult and middle grade fiction. Right now, MG seems fairly unmarred, but YA is full of depressing dystopias where violence reigns. And I'm ok with that.

I think there is a need for all kinds of YA works, from adventure stories that are fun and suspenseful, without any true threat or danger, to the extreme end that looks at the dark underside of the world of teens, to the capabilities of teens under extreme circumstances.

There weren't really "young adult" books when I was a teenager. The few books that existed specifically for teenagers generally preached to me about the evils of sex, why pregnancy would ruin my life, how guys all wanted to rape me, and how smoking a cigarette would cause me to end up addicted to heroin and prostituting myself for my next hit. (This is not an exaggeration, by the way).

So, for the twelve year old girl who started sneaking Jackie Collins novels and who was reading Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele religiously at fourteen, I'm ok with dark themes in young adult. I think there needs to be easier subgenre classifications so that teens of all ages and tastes can find what they want. Just because one teen wants to read about the brutality of child soldiers does not meant the next wants to. I think we owe it to everyone to provide both options.

We're authors, after all. Surely we can help provide a reading experience for everyone?

Next week: Lynda Williams writes her response to the central topic.

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