Writing a Sunset: A Shitty How-to Manual for Writing Angst
Someone recently asked me the best way to write angst. Honestly, there is no best way. But I’ll do my darndest to explain what’s worked for me so far.
The best way to write angst is to write loss.
Now, I’ve seen this done so many ways before. I’ve seen death, I’ve seen destruction, I’ve seen cities burn and knives find their mark. With writers there’s an endless way to build and then knock down. Like lego bricks, you just have to find the best place to plant your foot for the entire structure to tumble down onto the carpet.
But my favorite kind of angst is actually something smaller.
My favorite is what I call “Writing a Sunset”.
A character is created. Someone that we all know and love. They’re build from the bone to the skin to every lash and every smile line. We watch them learn and grow and sink and fall and tower and realize and live. And I, as the author, make sure to give you every detail of her life until you can look at the page and want to reach in and steal their hand in yours.
I also make sure that this character loves sunsets.
It’s the most important time of day for them. That time when the earth is still and silent. That time when the warmth begins its slow travel past a seemingly infinite horizon. Thick in it’s colors, it sinks below and drowns, and in its panic it sends out flares of reds and oranges and pinks that shoot across the sky, burning holes into the atmosphere and letting the stars breathe.
And in that moment, when Orion is lounging against smothering blue and the tips of a nebula soak in the receding magma, this character owns their own world. All they have is the sky and all the sky has is itself and everything is perfect.
And it’s then that I make them blind.
There is something to say about taking away what a character cherishes most. Because in the end our families and our smallest loves are what keep us together. We crave things, it’s true. And material possessions help to find their places in our lives. Losing a grandmothers necklace could be sad and misplacing a treasure map leading to adventure could be devastating.
But I always found it best to not take away what someone loves. But to take away access to it. To know that every day there’s a sunset waiting for them same as always but no longer can they seek it out.
Don’t take away what someone loves.
Take away their hope of seeing it again.
If they’re a couple who want a child, take away that ability.
If he’s a dragon who needs to defend his keep, take away his fire.
If she’s a fairy who needs to fly, take away her wings.
But what I also find is that angst is not complete without hope. It’s pandoras box, really. And after sunsets, though it might seem dark, the dawn will eventually come.
And that’s where my favorite part comes in.
Taking away an ability doesn’t stop someone. It merely gives them a reason to try something else. And though it might seem bleak and hopeless, there’s always a chance. And that chance is sometimes the saddest and most joyful part of all.
When our character learns that by stretching their hands out and spreading their fingers like starfish to an aching sun, they can feel its first rays gliding though yearning fingers. Feel tears against their face and a smile stretching lines into permanence. Know that the darkness will always be there, but oh how the sunlight touches their skin…
If they can’t have children, have them adopt.
If the dragon can’t breathe fire, have it befriend the blacksmith.
And if she can no longer fly, then run until the wind burns her face and scars her feet and she feels free again.
Writing a Sunset is my favorite kind of angst because it’s the one we can relate to most. The fear of losing what we don’t realize we love and the need to reach out and tell them it’ll be okay. Writing a Sunset means having the will to accept a fate you had no choice in, and finding a new way to see once more.
Writing a Sunset reminds us all that sadness is real. But so is courage. And you can’t have one without the other.