“Why Are You So Obsessed With Death?”
Why My Favorite Word is Redemption
It was a question by one of my students. I teach ninth grade English Language Arts, and I try to model what it’s like to be a writer to my students. Which means I sometimes share some of the stories I’ve written.
After sharing one of my stories, I never expected the reaction of my students to be a concern that I have a fixation with death. I’ve never even realized I write about death, to be honest. But now that I think about it, their concern makes sense on a certain level.
“The Perfect Letter,” the first story I shared, is about a young woman who desperately wants to die to get away from the pain of her life. “The Change,” a futuristic sci-fi thriller, is about a woman who has to choose between the life of her husband and the life of her child.
Both stories feature death prominently in them. And it doesn’t stop there. Nearly every short story I’ve written features someone either dying or coming close to it.
The thing is, I’m not obsessed with death, but what drives me as a writer often means facing death head on in my stories.
Facing the Darkness
I hate the darkness. Not the physical absence of light. I’m talking about the darkness that lives inside of me and inside of all of us. The part of me that works against the good I want to do for my family, friends, and other people I care about in the world. The part of me that’s so focused on my own comfort that I’ll chase after it at the expense of others.
I can’t speak for other writers, but when I write, I take my darkness and put flesh on it and toss it into a story where it tries desperately to survive but can’t. The light inevitably chases away the darkness.
My own struggle with the darkness looks far different than what I present in my stories. I’m a teacher, husband, father, and friend, and in all four of those roles, I try very hard to give my best. But the darkness often wants me to settle for giving less than my best because it’s more comfortable for me. It means that I cause pain instead of joy far too often than I’d like.
So I take my darkness and I paint it with dark colors, stepping into experiences that aren’t my own in order to understand my own darkness better and other people’s struggles more fully.
Sylvie struggles with suicidal thoughts; I never have. Jacob is a drug addict; I’m not. Jack Singleton is an adulterer; I’m not. Ben is a deadbeat father; I’m not.
I’m grateful those experiences aren’t my own. But I’m fully aware of the potential for great evil that exists inside of me. I could be any of those characters I’ve created. Fortunately, the potential for great good exists right along side of the darkness, and that’s why I write stories that paint the darkness as black as I can make it.
Which means the darkness often produces death.
I’m not obsessed with death. I’m obsessed with life.
My Favorite Word
One of my students asked a couple days ago what my favorite word is. I’ve never been asked that question, so I was surprised at how quickly I knew the answer.
It’s what drives me. The potential for light to shine in the darkness and bring hope where it shouldn’t exist. The realization that no one, including me, is beyond rescue. That the darkness doesn’t have to have the final say.
It’s what drives every story I write.
I’m not obsessed with death. I’m obsessed with redemption. And it’s why I write about death. Because death doesn’t stand a chance against redemption.
I need to see that struggle over and over again to remind me of the beauty of redemption.
Against the backdrop of death, there is nothing more beautiful.
So I will continue to write stories that explore the darkness in order to find the light.
Tom Farr is a writer, teacher, and storyteller who believes in crafting lies to tell the truth. When he’s not enjoying the good life with his beautiful wife Lindsey and their three much-adored children, he’s striving to create stories that thrill and inspire and preparing for the day Disney calls him to write a Star Wars movie. He’s also a contributing editor for Made Up Words. His work has also appeared on Panel & Frame, Wordhaus, Curiosity Never Killed the Writer, and The Unsplash Book. Check out his fiction writing portfolio on Medium and sign up for his author newsletter.