in a sea black with ink

The greatest reward I can receive as a writer is the knowledge that something I wrote affected someone who read it. Earlier today, a HUNTER reader e-mailed the following:

I'd like to make a request: Please don't make it so dark next time.

I know just how foolish it is to "make a request" about your writing — I'm not your muse, your boss, your editor or your conscience. I understand that the darkness is actually the reason for the actions of the characters in Hunter (i.e. it isn't gratuitous), and that without it, it would have been a completely different story. I understand that the degree of darkness in Hunter is nothing compared to some of the other mainstream fantasy/sci-fi fiction that's out there in bookstores.

I just don't like it. It makes me feel very sad when I read dark stories like that, and it makes me want to curl up and recover from it.

There's enough real evil in the real world; please don't add more fictional evil to it. 

HUNTER is just 2700 words, but it affected this reader so much, he/she/it wrote me this e-mail, and I've been walking on air all day because of it. HUNTER is set in a dark and desperate world, where good and evil is really a matter of perspective, and if readers left that world feeling really good, I either didn't hit the target I was aiming for, or I'm going to keep my distance from that reader if it's at all possible.

Every day, I struggle with the Voice of Self Doubt. When I get a note like this — that isn't condescending, demanding or unkind, but is sincere and thoughtful — I hold onto it, because it's worth +5 to my attacks (and grants 5d20 damage) against The Voice.

Mystery Reader who sent this: Thank you for reading, and thank you for writing. When I visit a world that isn't as dark as Goa, I hope you'll come along for the ride.

33 thoughts on “in a sea black with ink”

  1. Wil, you are a truly amazing writer. You move an entire generation of geeks with stories about what you ate or which underpass you drove under or what you did at work. It’s awesome to witness.
    Yet, I feel your fear. I know what it is to swim in the safe harbour of a blog, convincing yourself that it’s just “something not serious I whipped up”.
    I’m glad you wrote Hunter. I will buy it, hopefully from your hands in the next year. But know that THIS scared, self-doubting gifted writer is convinced that you would slay as a novelist. You’ll be an instant success.
    Tell you what, if you take the plunge before I do, I’ll call your bet and do so too. heaven knows I finally made it to self employed, I might as well take the final step.

  2. Wil, I very much look forward to the day when I finish the last word on the last page of your first full length fiction novel and I get to put it on my bookshelf next to my other favorites by Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi.

  3. “…because it’s worth +5 to my attacks (and grants 5d20 damage) against The Voice.”
    I smiled. Large.
    Ignore the condescending, the unkind and the demanding. Only take what you can use to help you be a better writer and/or person. (Yeah, that’s not easy–I recommend AC enhancements and buffs to Defense and Dexterity as soon as you get back to town.)
    Thanks for the candid and honest observations. It’s good to take risks.

  4. Your perspective, as always, is instructive. I’ve had feedback very similar to that, and “walking on air” was decidedly not my reaction to it.
    Your view is superior.

  5. Wil, I know you love short-short-short fiction (by which standard your 2700 words is the complete works of Robert Jordan) so you might like a little project I set up years ago and then kind of forgot about until recently: http://www.facefic.com/. The elevator pitch is: Facebook status updates are limited to 420 characters. That’s enough space to write a story, surely? Surely! This comment is an example! Check it out.

  6. The girl, with the red lips, and dark eyes – I really wanted to see an image of what she looked like. She sounded beautiful, pixie-like. But then I know if an image existed, it wouldn’t be what I had imagined…

  7. I agree with the person! I like your writing alot, the way you put the words, they flow interestingly and so harmoniously, but the images that those words create are unpleasant and that is why I did not donate, maybe almost subconciouly, because what we do with our mind is very important, the way you incline your mind is the way it will go (in the future). But people are different, so it is your choice who is your audience. Well, I like your writing alot, just not the horror stuff. I do not like hell realms, and do not like to attune my mind toward that, but some people sure wish to go there and I bet they will pay you to write stuff like that

  8. Wil, I’m kind of afraid to write a longer comment here because it might sound stupid and I don’t want to look stupid to a person who is officially awesome. But it seems we all have to do things that we’re afraid of sometimes. :)
    When I read Hunter I just said “great story”, because that’s what it is.
    Additionally though I was surprised to see that there can be such dark thoughts in your mind. All the other things you wrote (at least those I read) were something in the already wide range of funny, sad, romantic, thoughtful, nostalgic, a little bit crazy sometimes, and even though “The Day After” gave some hints, I wouldn’t have expected that you can think of evil things. And I was delighted.
    ….
    [Insert clever last sentence here in order to make me look non-stupid to Wil Wheaton.]

  9. I have to disagree with Anonymous. The conflict that drives our stories is born from darkness; a secret kept from others, a secret learned by others, the worst day of your Hero’s life, or a world gone mad. There’s always darkness, ranging from bad to downright evil. For me, the point of fictional evil is that we can ensure it will be defeated, unlike real evil which is so often outside of our sphere of influence. It’s the Hero’s ability to overcome that evil that makes for an interesting, engaging story.
    I feel that part of Anonymous’ problem is that the story is too short to allow our Hero to reach that goal. For me, it certainly wasn’t a happy ending, but it was a hopeful ending; in this dark, horrible world, there was finally someone willing to fight for the innocents. That, of course, leads to discussions about the ends justifying the means and whether armed resistance is ever right. To say I’m looking forward to the next visit to Goa is an understatement.
    I don’t think it’s fair to ask an author to dilute the darkness; it’s the story that demands the darkness, rather than the writer. I think we’re mature enough as writers to not over-do it or damage the story by compromising what we do. I’m sure I don’t need to quote P. T. Barnum to you :-)
    Perhaps I should print that quote out and hang it on the wall under the “Don’t be afraid to suck” banner…

  10. I also like how you took a potential criticism, and saw it as a compliment. You could have read that as “It’s too dark, jerk! Make it nicer, or I won’t read!” Instead you took it as “This really affected me; only good writing can do that, so kudos.”
    Regardless of the intentions of the writers of these notes, we must be able to avoid looking though SELF-DOUBT’s shite tinted glasses if we’re able to retain the drive to keep taking that risk.
    Well played, Wheaton, well played.

  11. I, too, found your world a dark and scary place. My thoughts, though, ran along these lines… How did it get that way? Sure, sure, aliens… but HOW and WHY? Who are these rebels? Will they ever manage to secure a place for themselves in their world free from the aliens, or are then eventually doomed to die, every last one of them? My most prevalent thought, however, was, “GIVE ME MORE! More, Wil Wheaton… give me MORE!”
    So, yeah. Don’t stop writing. That Voice of Self Doubt is kind of a dick.
    (P.S. That Voice buzzes in my ear every time I post a painting for the world to see on my blog or website or FB. So I KNOW that stupid Voice is a total dick. I’ve beaten it down by posting a piece of art nearly every day for almost four years. It still natters, but it’s much easier to ignore now. Um, I guess what I’m saying is… just keep writing and sharing the writings.)

  12. Hi Wil,
    Very cool – can’t wait to read the next one, and the one after that…
    Just had to tell you that it’s my birthday today and it’s been a unique one, as all of the gifts from my husband have been digital (I love the future!). I now have Happiest Days of Our lives and Just a Geek in audio book for my listening pleasure, The Day After and Other Stories on my Kindle, and a brand new set of spinning lessons (yes, for a spinning wheel with wool and stuff, not the bike-thing) downloaded from the publisher to our computer and watchable on the TV over the home network via our XBox 360. It’s perfect: he could still shop at the last minute and didn’t have to waste time and gas running all over town trying to find what was in stock locally, and I’ve got exactly what I want in portable form so I can do my two favorite things: create and read (OK, listen) at the same time.
    Thanks for doing what you do, and for making it so accessible to everyone. I wish you were going to perform with Paul and Storm in Portland too, next month, not just at Largo. Ground Kontrol just reopened after a huge remodel – you’re going to love it!

  13. I think the reason that the story may have traumatized some readers is because it is so the opposite of the tone of your usual blog posts. I don’t even remember when I first started reading your blog. Probably soon after my first computer, a pink imac arrived on my doorstep and I stayed up all night surfin’ the net on dial up. :) Good times, good times.
    Most of your blog posts go right over my head, because, although I love the at your fingertips answer to every random question my mind can conjure, the inner mechanisms of the machines themselves and even the relatively simple html that I am allowed to use here, are beyond my current skill set.
    I can’t even relate to the gaming references much, aside from the sheer joy you convey in taking part in them. Another thing that helps me understand some of your posts is that I’ve watched a documentary that explained the difference between Trekkies and- oh crap, I just lost it. Star Wars fans? Yup, I have no hope of attaining true geekdom. However, I do think it is entirely cool that being a geek is now a status symbol. :)
    So why would someone so out of your particular loop read your blog? Because, as this reader posted, the world is evil enough. Listening to the news or dwelling on the negative that can occur in everyday life, is a bummer. Sometimes, I just need a shot of positive- and it kind of radiates from you. You reaffirm my belief in the basic goodness of mankind. No, seriously. When you do your personal posts, observations about life, your family, your marriage… you represent the kind of person that it is nice to know is still out there. It also causes me to reflect on my own blessings instead of the rotten crap that can so readily displace them in my mind. It’s awesome that you’ve been able to follow your dreams of writing and performing and that you still take the time to appreciate the little things. It’s just nice to see good things happen to good people for a change.
    It may not sound like it, but I am a basically positive person- I’ve just had my psyche bashed around a bit by reality- and damn, I hate it when pessimists are right about ANYTHING. So I read your posts, laugh at your jokes-even the intentionally lame ones, and shake off the negative feelings. Your blog is one of my “happy places.”
    As for “Hunter,” I liked it. The only grammatical thing that I paid any attention to was the “But if she just stood there…” thing. It caused me to re-read and kinda ruined the flow for a millisecond, but other than that it was an entertaining read. I actually enjoy a good evil story, and this one had a happy ending. That’s the cool thing about fiction, you can make the bad guy pay.
    As I’m sure you noticed, I am also no good at the whole conveying a bunch of meaning in a short post, so twitter, facebook, and even texting can kiss my long-winded booty.

  14. I don’t pretend to be a writer on your level, Wil, as I don’t do it for a living in any way (though twice someone actually paid me for my words – what?), but I can completely relate to this post. I’m often blown away when I get a review that clearly shows me that my story, my mere words, have affected a reader in some way that actually moves them.
    Some years ago, I wrote a story involving a young boy who was adopted. The character was completely original, but the story was set in an established sci-fi universe. (It was a fanfiction.) Generally, I’m no fan of original characters in such things, but this boy wouldn’t leave me alone, and I had to tell his story.
    That story is about 5200 words long, and it is responsible for the greatest amount of gut-wrenching feedback I have ever received. It is also responsible for my one moment of celebrity, but that’s another story for another day. A completely unrelated story involving a woman who fosters children is a close second. (Ironically, it is also about 5200 words long.) The reviews I get on these two stories are from adopted children and people who went through the foster care system. They tell me that my story – my stupid little fanfic – made them cry or hit them where it hurts and other such things.
    And I am humbled…and gratified…and amazed.
    So, the point is that I understand your reaction to this review, and I’m happy for you.
    I’ve read Hunter now, and I loved it.
    Keep writing, Wil. Keep writing.
    *kicks The Voice a few times for good measure, because it doen’t follow Wheaton’s Law at all*

  15. Short thoughts:
    I enjoyed Hunter, but unlike anonymous I didn’t think it was dark *enough*. And in any case, I think dark, gut-wrenching fiction (especially science fiction!) is important as a way to bright light to and reflect upon the problems of society.
    Purchased to support future endeavors.

  16. 1) Cut the Voice some slack. I’m sure it’s lonely now that it doesn’t have Prove to Everyone for constant company.
    2) As an aspiring Forensic Taphonomist, my perspective may be a bit skewed, but like dkplewis I, too left Hunter with a feeling of hope. A description of evil turned in upon itself will never be pleasant, but that’s rather the point, isn’t it? It’s good to know I”m not the only person who thinks of things as dark as this, but choses to face the world with laughter rather than despair.

  17. I know you and John Scalzi are buddies. His most recent short work, “The God Engines”, was also very dark – and he, like you, usually does not go dark.
    Did the “Clash of the Geeks” experience somehow open up a shadowy netherworld, swallowing you two into its yawning abyss?

  18. I have to say, and I didn’t read the comments above mine, so I don’t know if I’m echoing the sentiment or not, but here goes. I personally didn’t see Hunter as being hopeless, or evil. Yes, it is definitely dark, but in the end, there was hope. I very much enjoyed the story, paid for it, and would pay for any further installments (please please please) without hesitation.

  19. Semi-random thought: I was thinking about the point of this entry (affecting others by one’s work) and the idea came to me…Perhaps the “Do Something Creative” initiative could be used to write the teleplay for #wilwforcastle. Have you tried your hand at teleplay writing before? I’m sure it’s very hard, but if you could write the story first; well even if it was never seen or used, I know I’d personally be gratified by having attempted the experience. Even so, you never know. The Voice would likely be heavily damaged by something so ambitious.

  20. Clash of the Geeks gave me a huge XP boost, and buffed me at least one full level in Writing, if not more. Because I knew that story had to be written (I couldn't back out because I was afraid) and because I knew it was supposed to be stylized, it gave me permission to have fun and *tell a story* instead of stressing out about telling *a perfect* story.
    If I hadn't written my story for Clash of the Geeks, I don't know if I would have published The Day After and Other Stories and I know that wouldn't have even written Hunter, let alone published it.

  21. I just read it, and all I can say is… I want more.
    I love you as an actor, but I prefer you as an author. (Though I do adore listening to your voice when you narrate an audio book).

  22. I love how you refer to your own skills as if they were in an RPG.
    Which would probably be a fun exercise for you – write up the Wil Wheaton character record sheet! D&D would be too specific, you may need to go in a more-generic GURPS type direction.
    You could have magic items:
    Clown Shirt – Charisma -5, stuns opponents 1d6 rounds
    Special Abilities:
    Channel Wesley Crusher – Allows Wil Wheaton to direct Tachyon Pulses at plot holes, removing them from his stories.
    Wife Approval Bonus – After receiving supportive comments from wife relating to geeky activity, receives +2 offensive bonus for 1d20 turns. Bonus doubles when wife actually engages in geeky activity.

  23. “Every day, I struggle with the Voice of Self Doubt. When I get a note like this — that isn’t condescending, demanding or unkind, but is sincere and thoughtful — I hold onto it, because it’s worth +5 to my attacks (and grants 5d20 damage) against The Voice.”
    This? This is awesome. The honesty combined with attack and damage stats. Nice.

  24. I have not read either of your stories….yet. Key word: yet.
    That said, while I understand and appreciate the reader’s perspective, I would encourage you to ignore it. Not to be insensitive, but because a writer should write from their heart. From their mind’s eye that allows them to tell a story in the light that they see at the time of writing it.
    I applaud the reader for trying to shed his/her/it’s perspective, and even take note that the world has enough evil in it already, but one of the beautiful things in this world is our ability to write as we feel, and let others judge…or not judge…or read…or not read. We all have our own choices to make.

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