Do you always try to create beauty when you write?...Should you?
When I was in my earlier stages of writing a few years ago, the organizer of a writer's group I joined told me that my writing was too beautiful all the time, even the scenes that had to do with conflict. What he meant by that was that I was always choosing sounds that sounded good together and describing scenes that were full of nice things like gardens and clear skies. He argued that too much beauty made a reader numb to it, like how a marmot might take a rose for granted after living its entire life in a rose garden.
He told me to listen to Shostakovich.
If you've never listened to Shostakovich (aside from at least one arrangement of "Tea For Two" that he did very prettily as the result of a bet), I'll say that he can be a bit ugly at times. His violin concerto No. 1, for example, begins with dark cello sounds, interrupted by the tense violin that sounds as if it is in great pain. Swampy clarinets come in. Low strings pulse. The violin continues to suffer. It grows quiet. It grows delirious. Really, listening to it sometimes, I just want to pinch the last bit of its life away.
But, eventually, if you do stick with the music, following it through several minutes of sadness mixed with some more barbaric sections, there comes a moment when Shostakovich gives us a few seconds of a truly beautiful run. It surfaces unexpectedly, all the more special because of the dark journey we have taken to get to it.
In a way, the darkness becomes the set up for that fleeting moment of beauty, and, at least for me, hitting the rewind button to skip back a few seconds to the nice part doesn't ever create the emotion as well as coming to it after listening from the very beginning again.
I realize, after yesterday's discussion, that this lesson of including the ugly things between the beauty has always stuck with me, even though I don't consciously think about it anymore. I was caught off guard when I heard that my writing made people uncomfortable or upset (as someone else put it), but as I think back on it, I realize that I had chosen that path while I was creating these stories. I let myself put some ugliness in because I liked the way it contrasted against the beauty. And, I realize now that everything I've written recently follows the same approach. That's why I wrote about a cannibal, and a lot of sections of Cyberlama delve into the ugliness as well.
Not every book has to be like that, though. I'm currently reading Judy Croome's Dancing In The Shadows Of Love, that has consistent beauty, in my opinion. And, within that story, I can still see an emotional range. It's like the marmot can live in the rose garden but still notice that one rose is more beautiful than all the other ones. Instead of contrasting the rose to the mud, the contrast occurs between a pretty rose over a less pretty one. Or something. The experience of reading it is different in a sense that I'm not as afraid that my shoes will get dirty. It is a more comfortable journey.
I guess, then, that there's sort of a basal level of beauty that a writer builds into the foundation of a story, and then, based on that basal level, it is her or his job to create a dynamic range that can rise above and sink below that level. As long as the range is there, the writer can choose (or maybe the writer can't choose?) where the middle of that range lies. Without any range at all, the writing might feel monotonous.
As far as deciding just how much beauty to put into it, that's something that I'll often wonder about. Maybe it's an arbitrary decision. I don't really know.
Where are you on this? Do you think about beauty when you write? Do you try to contrast it with ugliness? More generally, is beauty important at all?