Do you enjoy dark stories? Five years ago, I would’ve answered the question with an unreserved yes. Today… well, I’d have to have a bit of clarification first.
I mean, what does dark mean anymore? Stories that feature danger and violence? Battle and war? Gritty realism? Evil? Death?
I started thinking about it after reading our own Juliet Marillier’s excellent WU essay last week, in which she says: “Overall, it seems to me that fantasy is becoming darker all the time, with authors tackling more and more challenging themes. There’s a strong horror element in many works. Perhaps that is a reflection of the times we live in.”
I agree that fantasy seems to be growing darker. I’ve recently found I have my own limits of tolerance for darkness. And I’m not just talking about horror (which I don’t often read, and have never written).
Purveyor of Darkness…Who, me?
I mentioned my prior fondness of dark stories, though I don’t really think I ever actually sought out darkness in my reading life. But as an avid epic fantasy reader, boy, have I found it. I even became a fan of some dark storytellers. Glen Cook, George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, etcetera—I’ve been reading grimdark for many years, and often enjoying it.
As for darkness in my work, how’s this for the shoe fitting? I started with the barbarians who famously first sacked Rome (the Goths), and made the Gothic characters my protagonists. When it comes to violence and war, theirs is a warrior society. They fight. A lot. As do the Romans they encounter. Both societies have brutal aspects; I’ve featured atrocities committed by both sides. I’ve never shied away from portraying the blood or the misery wrought by war. In other words, my stories are rife with humans doing horrible things to other humans.
As for death, well, let’s just say I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to writerly grim reaping. To give you an idea, I did a quick head count for my first trilogy. Out of twelve POV characters, six end up pushing daisies. Oh, and almost all of those are violent ends. If portraying death makes me a purveyor of darkness, most juries would name me guilty as charged.
But you know what? I never really considered my work dark.
A Matter of Tone
I used to be a diehard story finisher. But I’ve recently started some dark epic fantasies that I ended up setting aside. I also started a fantasy television series that I’ve given up on. The show in particular seemed to be trying to be dark for darkness’s sake—like an epic fantasy version of keeping up with the Westerosi. Prior to those I didn’t finish, I’d made my way through a few dark stories that left me feeling… hollow.
There are some things that will always start to turn me against a story or its characters. [Read more…]