Writing the Dark Side: Murder, Mayhem, and Mystery


Flaubert once said that we should be ordinary in our lives so that we may be violent and wild in our imaginations. This class is designed for that purpose—to allow your dark side to run wild. What is the purpose of fiction if not to unlock the secrets of the human heart. To paraphrase the crime writer, Kate Atkinson, we write these stories not in order to solve the puzzle of crimes but to solve the problem of being alive. From the Bible to Brett Easton Ellis, murder has intrigued. Mysteries perplex us. And human behavior can be stranger than anything you could make up. In this course, you get to dip into your own Jeckyl and Hyde; but, while the content of this course is to probe the darkness, the primary goal—in some ways, the only goal—is the writing. We will write stories and workshop them. Prompts will be designed, and discussions will focus on character, plot, language. The writing is essential, because we wouldn’t read stories by Ray Bradbury or Joyce Carol Oates as we do if they weren’t written by great writers. We’ll read tales from the dark side, starting with Cain and Abel. On to Shakespeare’s Othello, Poe, Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock, John Fowles’s The Collector, Joyce Carol Oates's Zombie and Dark Water,  Kafka’s The Penal Colony, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man...and perhaps Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Helter Skelter, Stephen King, and mystery writers such as Raymond Chandler, Agatha Cristie, and Kate Atkinson. We will most likely read James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia, along with the memoir he wrote about the murder of his own mother, My Dark Places. We’ll dip into the world of “noir” and write stories from our own dark places while learning the essentials of fiction writing. This is not for the faint-hearted. You will compile a collection of your stories by the year’s end. Some previous knowledge of fiction writing is preferred but not required.