In art, it’s called chiaroscuro, the play of shadows and light. In graphic design, it’s called positive and negative space. In photography and film it’s called contrast. In music it’s called tension and release or dynamic tension. Every art form has its version of it.
In writing, it’s creating flawed and ambiguous characters. In the same way that the pregnant pauses in a musical piece add weight to the passage, in the same way that it requires shadows to create a sun-dappled field, believable, empathetic characters require flaws because real people have flaws and are aware of them. I can think of twenty decisions – amoral ones even – I’ve made that I regret.
I can’t speak for other authors and how they create believable characters, but I often present mine with dilemmas in which they must choose between self and the greater good. They’ll often put a check mark by the SELF box. And, if I’ve done my job correctly as an author, the reader will agree with them, in some ways making them complicit in the choice.
In This Dark Earth, I really tried to explore the darker natures of what would, in a normal world, be good people by putting them in the crucible of the apocalypse. They often make decisions solely for their own good. A boy chooses life but tells the secrets to destroying his home. A doctor breaks her oaths, professional and personal, to save the man she loves. A good woman becomes a murderous force for vengeance. A moral man chooses to allow a murder to go unpunished.
As a writer, these are the situations that interest me. Faulkner said all literature should be “the human heart in conflict with itself.” I would amend that to say in my books, the human heart in conflict with itself mirrors the outer conflict and in this way, my characters become real to me. And hopefully to you, the reader.
– Praise for This Dark Earth –
“Readers will become immersed in the dark, unforgiving world Jacobs has created, and the morally ambiguous choices his characters make will give them plenty to ponder.” – Booklist
“This second novel by Jacobs has all of the right elements of the bookshelf’s worth of zombie novels swarming the market: zombies, blood, gore, terror and the gruesome mechanics of survival—but this bloody entry also offers something more in style, substance and readability… The novel’s tenderness in places is balanced by a ferocity that pulls no punches. For readers who get off on what-would-I-do? questions, this book offers satisfaction.”
– Kirkus Book Reviews
“This smart addition to the zombie genre is heroic and strangely hopeful, championing the unyielding human drive for justice and civilization.” – Publishers Weekly