How to create darkness

“Herbs”, the scrolling author said after a while, his face raising from the screen. He was working on a scene in a temple where the priest burns, well, herbs. “That’s lazy writing, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” I nodded. “Better let your reader smell it.”

We had a good session today. I liked each of his five remarks on the final draft of the third chapter, and he digested most of the few things I said. We had fun making up science fiction herbs, and I learned that “Weihrauch” is the resin of a plant, not the smoke (“Rauch”) of a smouldering herb.

The third chapter begins with a cliche setting. Lost boy alone in the dark forest, followed by 7.000 words – which is the smallest part of what he has handed me. We are three months in now, one million words still to rewrite if things go well.

In the beginning of the chapter he wanted the forest darker and more dramatic. I had tried to achieve exactly that by eliminating his constant reminders of how dark and threatening it is, encouraging the reader’s imagination instead  – show, don’t tell. He liked it but demanded more, so I added detail to the setting without much debate about being overdescriptive.

I feel uncomfortable with the scene either way. It’s not my best work, I’m afraid, right at the beginning of a chapter unfortunately. But with him I have to pick fights carefully in order to not waste too much time. This wasn’t worth it, and, most of all, he may be right. Cliche or not, the forest should be as dark and dangerous as we can make it.