As an aspiring author, I know firsthand that books can get pretty dark.
Some of the most popular jokes about authors revolve around their love for killing characters or desire to make character’s lives as miserable as possible. I would know. I have made countless memes on them on @memesforwriters and they never seem to disappoint.
It makes sense that authors would want to write tragic scenes too. Characters who struggle sell. No one wants to read a story about a rich billionaire who retires peacefully and spends the rest of his days happily on the beach.
Why? Because there is no conflict, and that makes it extremely boring.
That being said, some writers take torturing their characters too far. They make their stories so gloomy and depressing that they offer little else to the reader. Some readers do not want to read a completely grim book. Even those who do can lose interest in the story when there is no shift in the tone throughout.
If you want to write a dark book, go for it. It is your creative choice. That being said, it should be a creative choice. Too many new writers make gloomy scenes the default, and when it comes to writing it is never wise to simply go with the default.
Why You Should Consider Making Your Story More Upbeat
The reason you never want to make decisions because everyone else is making them is you all end up doing the same thing. You’re not going to write an identical book as someone else, but if you both have an extremely hopeless tone your books may sound the same.
This does not just apply to books either. In flash fiction, some publishing sites encourage the community to write stories centered around different emotions because too many entries are sad. If you wrote an entry with a happy feel to it, the chances are pretty good they would take a much closer look at it.
Sure that is flash fiction, but that does not mean it does not apply to longer works too. The reason so many flash fictions are so negative is because conflict tends to push your character away from more positive emotions. As a result, it is natural to take a negative tone.
Therefore by resisting that negative tone and adding more upbeat elements, your story will certainly stand out more.
Keep in mind that does not mean you have to write a completely gleeful story either. Just as too many depressing scenes can numb the reader, too many positive scenes can bore them. The trick is to balance them so that there are both highs and lows.
What your story has more of is up to you. The point is, having more positive scenes will make the negative ones that much more crushing for the reader. As a writer, this is a great way to make scenes stand out.
Write an Optimistic Character
As the reader, you view the events of the story through the main characters. If one of these characters has a strong sense of optimism, it will be felt through the tone of the story.
One of the reasons it is hard to keep books upbeat is the story’s nature to inflict suffering on the main character. The moment you open a book there is no doubt in your mind, something is going to go wrong for them. Bad shit just seems to happen to characters.
It is not by sheer chance either. These obstacles the main character must overcome are what keeps the reader interested. That does not mean they need to make the main character miserable.
You can not change the fact that life will suck for your main character at points, but you can alter the way they react when shit hits the fan.
Rather than writing a character that acknowledges the situation is hopeless, write one that always seems to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even in the direst situations, this character will see a happy ending.
If there are other characters, have this character be their inspiration.
Having a character that looks almost certain death in the eye can certainly lighten the tone of the story. The reader can find hope with them. Even though the actual events of the story may be completely dark, this character can remind them about all the goodness of humanity.
If there is a scene in your story where all hope becomes lost, having this character lose hope can make it so much more powerful.
The one key to this is to make their optimism evident, but not annoying. If every other sentence that comes out of their mouth is “hope this” or “believe in that” your readers might root for their deaths, taking away the entire benefit of including them.
Including jokes is one of the most effective ways to make your story more upbeat. Writing a character with a good sense of humor can help the reader smile and forget about all the terrible stuff happening in the book for a brief second.
During tense situations in life sometimes it helps to break the ice with a joke. The same is true for stories.
For this tip to work you do not need to make your book into a complete comedy. Every other sentence does not have to have a zinger. You just need to include some humorous scenes here and there, particularly after some of the darker ones.
Try to find clumps of negative scenes and break them up with a joke or two. At the very least, this will give your reader a chance to breathe.
Including jokes can be beneficial for any type of story, including shorter works of fiction, but it works best for full novels as you do not have to worry about wasting words on a joke that the reader may not even find funny.
Speaking of the reader not getting the joke, one of the keys to writing good humor is letting your jokes and funny scenes stand on their own. If the reader gets it, perfect. If it flies over their head it is not a big deal. Think about it. If the joke does not make sense they might stare at it for a second and then continue. If you desperately try to explain it, not only will it ruin the joke for people who did enjoy it, but it will become irritating to read. This takes the reader out of the story. Besides, who laughs at a joke after it has to be explained to them.
Now, when writers are told to include comedy in their story they are oftentimes tempted to add in a new character. This character is known as a comic relief character. I do not like to tell writers to never do something, but when it comes to comic relief characters it is seldom a good idea to write one.
Why? Because a character that brings only humor is pointless. Sure, there is nothing wrong with writing a funny character. Having a character that evokes laughter is great for your story. Just make sure there are characteristics they bring to the table other than being funny.
Otherwise, you end up with a character everyone hates. If all a character does is make jokes and stupid decisions, the chances are the reader will get tired of them almost instantly. This will ruin the idea of putting a smile on the reader’s face so they can take a break from all the tragic scenes you wrote.
Use Brighter Settings
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
What is the deal with authors and the obsession to write terrible and gloomy weather? Sure, most writers can tell that line above is a joke, but still. The truth is it would be a bit hard to find an author that did not use a stormy night at least once in a story.
The reasoning is solid. The weather and setting is a great tool to use for setting and emphasizing the tone of a story. It can make for a dark and dramatic climax.
At the same time, what some writers do not seem to realize is they can use settings in lighter scenes as well. For example, you can describe a hot sunny day at the beach. I mean an enjoyable day too, not a scorching desert hell.
Just like how the setting can help set the tone in darker scenes it can also do the same in lighter scenes. Do not just describe dull settings. Describe gorgeous ones as well. Describing a stunning beach or breathtaking forest can even contrast the darker settings in the story.
Having settings that contrast each other will make your scenes stand out.
Nobody Has to Die
Writers love killing characters. It is one of the most popular jokes about writers out there, and for some, it is the truth. There are writers out there that genuinely love writing the deaths of characters.
They love it so much that you may think the main reason characters die in stories is the author loves to torture the reader. The truth is character deaths are very powerful tools particularly when it comes to setting the tone or raising the stakes.
For many writers, killing characters is the go-to method of raising the stakes. An actual death or a near-death encounter shows the reader that the characters’ lives are at stake.
So many books use character deaths to raise the stakes that it can be seen as an overused method. It may seem difficult at first, but there are other ways to raise the stakes in a novel.
Rather than focusing on life and death, your book can focus on the state of a relationship or a financial situation. There are countless ways to make a book worth reading. I am not saying here to avoid using death as a stake, but more to point out there are other options. Even if you use death, exploring some of these options, in addition, will make your story much stronger.
If you want to kill characters, go for it. It is simply important to know it is optional. Just because it is a big part of writing does not mean it is mandatory to write death. A story can still be intriguing if it does not include any death. A character can beat the odds and survive cancer. A character can find a way to defeat the villain without sacrificing the people they love or themselves. Even better, a character can beat the villain without killing them.
By avoiding death in your stories, you will develop other elements to use in your writing that some writers do not explore nearly enough. You will also, as a direct effect, make your writing more upbeat.
Happy Endings Still Exist
Now I realize there are plenty of authors that do not need to hear this. Plenty of authors write happy endings. For some reason, however, some newer authors seem to only go for neutral endings or negative endings.
What I mean by a neutral ending is the protagonist comes out on top, but they are left to ponder the cost. It does not leave the reader with a powerful feeling of happiness or sadness. Every book calls for a different ending, but in most cases, an ending like this leaves me wanting more. The only time I feel they do not disappoint me is when they are used in a middle book in a series, and even then I would prefer a more emotionally charged ending.
One of the reasons I believe there are more endings like this is that some authors seem to be hesitant to write happy endings. Perhaps they feel the happy ending is dead, or that it belongs in children’s books.
Now I agree that some overly happy endings can come off as cheezy and dark endings can be cool, but there is still a place for happy endings in fiction. You do not have to make the reader sob for a day after finishing your book. You can leave them with a smile!
Just because the events of your story made your character miserable does not mean you need to end the story with the broken. You can let your characters heal and even grow. A book that has the characters finish off in a better place than where they started can be just as good as a story that leaves them in shambles. Broken relationships between characters can be mended. Your characters can celebrate their victory.
Not every book is meant to have a happy ending. Some stories were always meant to end in tragedy. Do not just go for the tragic end however, feel it out and pick the ending that is best for your story.
It may be a happy, feel-good conclusion.
This is not a post telling you to only write more upbeat books. Every story is different, and it is up to the writer to pick the proper tone.
This post is meant for writers who struggle to write positive scenes. Too much of one emotion is never good. Variety is always good for a strong story, especially longer works.
A great book needs to find a balance between dark and upbeat scenes. Too much of one or the other can wear out the reader. The last thing you should do is cut out every negative scene and replace it with a positive one. You need both highs and lows.
The best way to tell if your story needs more upbeat scenes is by reading it. If you can go three or more chapters without cracking a smile your story can use some positivity.
Every detail of your story should be a creative choice. If you find yourself constantly writing one depressing scene after another, consider incorporating some of these tips into your novel.