I wonder sometimes when I pick up a story just what tragedy awaits me.

It is a strange feeling. However, in a number of the genres that I read I am resigned that the stories that are not explicit comedies will deal largely with the worst parts of people and the world around us.

There is a beauty in this and a power that I often enjoy reading.

It makes me sad sometimes because it seems a deliberate cut of so much of what makes a world live and breathe.

I have never agreed with that famous line from Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Truthfully, unhappiness is often predictable. It is broad strokes painted on a black canvas.

Is there adultery? Is there a dead child? Torture? Death? Disease?

Happiness is so much stranger, so much more composed of odd bits haphazardly fit together.

Happiness is personal.

A dead child is a short-hand for a kind of emotional tragedy that everyone can relate to.

How much harder is it to explain the joy that someone takes in rearranging the pieces of broken sea glass they place in the window?

But there is no need to have merely one note, one emotion in a story.

I think sometimes that we take the wrong lesson from the art of chiaroscuro, the usage of light and shadows.

The power of shadows is not that they become the complete image themselves, but that they highlight the light beside them.

How much stronger is a joy mounted against a backdrop of pain?

When we paint only in grey, there is skill and technique in fine differences of shade and colour.

But few paintings or stories can match the power of bold strength and colour standing out against the darkness.

IMG_0668All the best of light and shadow

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the value of contrast. I hope that these thoughts are useful to others as well.


For my own play with light and shadows, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.

5 thoughts on “Shadowfall

  1. Beautifully said Cat, how does one know when they are happy if they have never been sad. In response to the painting analogy, the eye is always instantly drawn to the light first then carries around into the darkest recesses then back to the light. Maybe this is an analogy to Aristotles meaning of “A Tragedy” good, bad, to good again.

    • Thank you- I’m glad that it meant something to you as well. I would also say that there is often what I like to call a stained-glass window treatment of tragedy. As in, sadness is this strange, fixed ideal short-handed by the type of tragic event. It is one of the fastest ways to throw me out of a story.

      I agree with your take on the painting analogy. A rich life or piece of artwork has both highs and lows to draw us in. Our constant movement between the light and the dark is what creates the music of our lives. It’s interesting to realize the connections to Aristotle, although I am less interested in a piteous ending and more in bittersweet triumph. I keep hoping that I can convince other people of the literary merit of happiness!

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