I have a tendency to go grim in my stories. It’s something I need to keep a close eye on, and one of the reasons that I write Romance (they have to get to their happily-ever-after!). I find that if I don’t feed that part of my muse, though, it gets…demanding.
The weird thing about it is that I can write creepy and even gory scenes in my own works, but if I read them or see them in other stories they’re hard to take. I’ve even had to stop reading a story or watching a show when events take a gory and dark turn. A friend called me out on this once, and I explained that if the character is someone (or something) that I control, I don’t find them as frightening and the situations don’t bother me as much.
I talk to my characters in my head as well as on the page. When my own stories become too intense, I’ll sometimes imagine myself in the scene shouting, “Cut!” Then everyone breaks character and pats each other on the back and talks it through. At one point, a villain actually seemed abashed and asked the others if he was going too far, and they all reassured him kindly. He’s still super creepy on the page.
Writing Romances frees me to go grimdark when I need to. When it happens, I can just remind myself that, in the end, the protagonists will get their happily-ever-after.