From The Joads to John Grisham; Striking A Balance Between The Inspiring and Depressing

Balancing the Light and the Dark
What Constitutes A Tasty Recipe?

In my course of reading books and watching movies, I have found that effective writers have become skilled at balancing the light and the dark. Too much of either can hurt the chances of someone enjoying your writing. We must add the right ingredients to achieve this and to entice our reader to journey with you from cover to cover.

Doesn’t real life need to balance light and dark to keep us going, alternating our days with situations that drain us with those that rejuvenate us? When we fail to achieve balance, life can bring us down.

After a challenging day of work we might cook, kick back and relax, or talk with a person who rekindles our hope. When life is stagnant, we might exercise hard, or parachute out of a plane. If we live in dismal surroundings, a trip to a beautiful place makes us feel better. If one lives perpetually in the lap of luxury, visiting a downtrodden person can make us feel good about ourselves.

Don’t writers need to achieve balance in a novel or script? There are a multitude of methods to balance the light and dark, making it hard to choose which ingredient to add to the mix. Does it need more meat, vegetables, or, simply, to be lightly spiced. I’m always asking myself if I am including enough of the positive in a chapter and book to make it worthwhile.

This could mean, juxtaposing a dismal setting with one that inspires; drudgery with fun; annoyance with happiness, fear with love.

How often have you read the beginning of a book or watched the opening scenes of a movie and said to yourself, “This is… “too depressing,” or “the protagonist is an idiot,” or “the setting is too bleak.” Of course any of these things could be turned into a positive if something is thrown into the bowl and stirred to make it tasty.

Have you ever noticed that books or movies that night otherwise be unpalatable, are given beautiful settings or characters that are inspiring? These people are often types that are capable of overcoming great odds; old, warm, and wise; sexy, or handsome.

I feel heart warmed by the beach scenes, people frolicking in the sun, which are depicted in Jaws. They give me a break from the fear that another person will be attacked by the shark.

Nicholas Spark’s Safe Haven opens at a lively restaurant on the beach where a bunch of young employees are enthusiastic and fun-loving. I know almost right away that the young female protagonist is in trouble. But the reader, as well as the young woman named Katie, is sedated by the lovely setting.

In John Grisham’s “Bleachers,” Neely, the main character is reluctantly revisiting his hometown where he was the high school’s stellar quarterback fifteen years earlier. You know right away that this is depressing for him, but the excitement of a game about to take place at a Southern town where football rules makes me want to read on. Plus I want to know the secret, apparently a dark one, of why he hasn’t come back sooner and would rather not be there.

I asked myself many times why I would read a book like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The answer took some time to occur to me. The Oklahoma setting, during the 1930s dust bowl, is beyond bleak. Dust even seeps into the smallest cracks in of the family’s shack on a dried up plot of land. The Joad family endures a trip to California to look for work, and they are desperate most of the time. One day I realized that I was inspired by their family, most of whose members stuck together through thick and thin. Also, they were tenacious—willing to take any sort of work to survive, and performed menial labor with diligence. They never quit!

Okay, some thrillers, like Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, such as Psycho, where an insane man lives in a run-down house, might not be worth watching if it weren’t for something else besides a pretty woman. I became absolutely drawn in by the masterful terror scenes, making me desperate that some person, or good force, will cancel evil. Plus I enjoyed a silent closeness to my fellow viewers; we were all on a dangerous trip together.

This most complicated task of balancing light and dark is perhaps one of our hardest tasks, but it is essential to do it well. My solution is, after I have done my best, to ask people to read my work and tell me how effectively I have done my job. That’s when the rewriting starts and I must figure out whether to add more meat, vegetables, spices, water or flour, or, remove some.

1 response on From The Joads to John Grisham; Striking A Balance Between The Inspiring and Depressing

  1. Your thoughts on balancing the light and dark were enlightening. An your metaphors of the chef who needs to balance his meat, veggies and spices were food for thought.

    Nicely whipped up piece!

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