I think I startled my wife. That’s not easy to do; she’s a therapist at a domestic violence recovery center. And I’m a level-headed, stereotypical, emotionless engineer. So we were both surprised when I asked her to review the first part of a novel I’m writing and she couldn’t stomach more than a few pages at a time.

I never used to like dark fiction. While I was in high school, Dr. Who was the most dramatic show I could bring myself to watch. Someone recommended I watch Broadchurch (now one of my favorites), and I couldn’t make it past the first episode.

I was a comedy guy. And I sometimes still am. My wife and I spend long car rides busting a gut to the likes of John Mulaney, Fern Brady, Early-Career Gabriel Iglesias, and anyone else who can make us laugh.

Comedy is nice. It lets you think about big issues if you want, but it also lets you turn your brain partially off and just laugh. When our lives got weird and traumatic, comedy helped get us through it.

That all changed when I watched The Durrels in Corfu from PBS Masterpiece, one of my favorite stories of all time. Like you probably also did, I fell in love with the Durrel family. The show is hilarious, of course, but it’s also full of touching, dramatic moments. It gave me a new perspective on what family means, how love and heartbreak can enrich and destroy lives, and what a community can look like. I watched it for the first time at a major crossroads in my life, and it helped me understand my situation in a way no one else could.

My high school band teacher, describing the difference between pop and symphonic music, made a comparison that still resonates with me. Pop music is like fast food. It scratches an itch, it’s engaging, it’s fun. We all enjoy a greasy burger from time to time. But symphonic music is like going to a nice sit-down restaurant. There’s substance and complexity, and it takes time to really enjoy it.

Comedy was my fast food. I love it, and it has kept me feeling full. But when I started enjoying more serious, dramatic stories, I kept going back for more. Stories with substance and complexity offer a richness that’s hard to get from other places.

A good story makes me feel seen. I almost never see my whole self in a character, but it is so impactful when someone in literature feels the way I feel or acts the way I act.

Dark stories, in a way that initially surprised me, have helped me feel more at peace with life than ever before. After teaching myself to enjoy more complex stories, I recently revisited Broadchurch. It’s not a happy story. Very little is actually satisfying throughout the series. It builds up hope and tears it down over and over again. But something about it resonated with me, and the experience seems to be shared by many of the show’s fans.

Watching Broadchurch felt like permission to think about things we normally try and supress. Nobody wants to think about a child being groomed and murdered, nobody wants to think about brutal, spontaneous rape, and nobody wants to think about how a legal system can tear an innocent, traumatized family apart. But if a story gives you space to empathize with characters in these horrifying situations, it becomes possible to process complex feelings that are otherwise suppressed.

So I started writing a dark story. It has been painful and rewarding to write a story that builds up hope just to tear it down and laugh in your face. Because I’m writing characters I can empathize with, it feels inhumane to be as cruel as I am to these completely made-up people. It’s giving me space to understand that sometimes life is just bad, and there’s not much we can do about it. As I’ve written, I’ve learned about myself. I’ve learned more about what I love, value, or fear. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be stuck in the middle with no place to go.

Most importantly, I’ve learned I often see much clearer in dark places.