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How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 3rd, 2010, 10:42 pm
by tinsoldier
Okay, so I have this world in my head that I've been playing with/writing stories in since high school (three years ago, give or take) and I finally found an MC that I'm particularly fond of. I want her to be this duty bound/do what she's told even is she doesn't particularly like it type (I like to call it the 'soldier complex', heh). Basically- the magic users are protectors/police like but the magic effects the mind in ways that over time can drive them insane. Once that happens they're considered irredeemable and killed. It happens to her brother and she's the one that has to take care of him.

Is that too much? I guess what I'm asking is how dark do you think a character can be before it's just unbelievable/over the top/unmarketable what have you? If any of that makes sense.

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 12:08 am
by Margo
I like the idea, but then again I like dark, especially in fantasy.

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 12:59 am
by tinsoldier
Margo wrote:I like the idea, but then again I like dark, especially in fantasy.
I enjoy reading dark fantasy as well, which leads me to wonder- Is an idea I find fascinating going to potentially be too squicky (Not a real word but I still love it. ;) ) for potential readers? Should that be a major concern?

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 1:56 am
by Margo
Squicky? Well...hmmm...er...no...I mean yes....or...What was the question? Squicky? I'm not sure exactly what squicky is, but if you're concerned that readers will find it too dark that a protag might have to kill her brother because he's gone insane, I'd say it's not a problem. The idea of a character having to kill a close family member or friend is something I've seen before. In fact, my MC is faced with the idea of killing her lover, at his request, and has to live with what happens to him (and the harm he causes) when she refuses.

Come to think of it I had an MC kill his sister in another ms. Maybe I'm not the one to ask. LOL.

Movies that have some variation on the theme jump to mind (I could also think of books given enough time, but I'm sleepy)...Resident Evil Apocalypse...Aliens (can't remember which one...the one where Hicks promises that if the aliens break through the defenses "I'll do us both."). It's all a matter of execution. I've seen books called dark (in a bad way) for less, and more twisted ideas slide by no problem. Know your audience is probably the best advice I can give...and then be consistent. That's pretty important too. Reader expectation.

Edit: I just remembered the scene in 28 Days Later where the hero has to beat the father to death with a bat in front of the man's daughter when he gets infected. Lots of dark twists in that one. The hero finding his parents after they've committed suicide.

Why can I only think of movies, but no books, when I'm tired? Whatever...

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 10:46 am
by craig
Like Margo said, it's all a matter of execution. (Interesting choice of words since we seem to be talking about killing...)

I personally don't think that's too dark -- though I don't read any fantasy, so I don't know how that compares to dark fantasy.

I was thinking of other dark things I've read...
- I read the first book in the Dexter series, which is about a serial killer who kills criminals. Lots of gore and blood, but you're left strangely cheering on this serial killer.
- I'm reading Jeff Somers's sci-fi series (The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, The Eternal Prison, The Terminal State), which is all about a former gunner for hire. The main character really commits mass murder in a future Earth that is extremely dark and devastatingly different from present day. In The Digital Plague, the main character is a carrier for a virus that wipes out almost the entire East Coast of the USA and he basically shrugs it off in the end.
- Karin Lowachee's sci-fi books delve deep into child abuse, child prostitution, and slavery.

All of these books are immensely dark and (with the exception of the Dexter book), I really enjoyed each and every one of them because they were so well written.

I've come across this in my own writing -- in my current WIP, I basically have no protagonist for a third of the book and the story pretty much ends when the protagonist carries out the premeditated murder of four people. After typing it, I was like, who's gonna like that? But on further reflection, I think how it was carried out and written makes it an "acceptable" level of darkness.

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 11:50 am
by polymath
It's too dark if color isn't discernible? No, dark is when it's darkest before the dawn? Too dark to see the forest for the trees? Isn't the wee dark early the peaceful time of day? Beurre noir is a butter sauce heated until it's browned or blackened and flavored with vinegar or lemon juice. Noir is crime drama with abysmal and sleazy settings and edgy, cynical characters.

A setting where magic causes practitioners to go insane suggests to me a fantasy dystopia. Coping with or escaping from dystopian conditions are the conventional plots of dystopias. Fantasy dystopias are unconventional, though many fantasies deal with dystopian conditions. The hero typically cures the conditions, unlike with science fiction dystopias where the dystopia remains intact.

If the level of insanity causes violent, irredeemable behavior and is set up as such, execution could be a noble sacrifice. Sort of like if the brother and sister have a pact that if it happens to one of them, the other has a duty to take him or her out. Several high suspense questions potentially posed. Will it happen to either or is it uncertain or inevitable? Who will be the first it happens to? Is it avoidable? I see a delicate balance between posing the situation so that readers are prepared for it, but when or who it happens too is left in doubt until it happens.

I also see potential comparisons with real world settings. War setting where a fatality asks to be killed rather than face enemy capture for whatever reasons. Execution of irredeemable predators who continue to pose a threat to society even if incarcerated. Assisted suicide for whatever reasons. I've encountered situations, some absurd, where close friends or family members make a pact that if either ever gets "like that" to please kill me. One of the more absurd ones I've heard is younger persons not wanting to suffer the indignities of late in life aging.

Regardless, if the situation is set up as inevitable, and the situation is horrific enough, I see no reason why readers would find mercy killing hard to accept. The central complication being the insuperable dilemma posed between the greater good and what's morally, ethicallly, legally just. And for the sister, her filial duty and her statutory obligation warring with one another in a crisis of conscience.

I believe keeping who, when, and so on in doubt until the deed is needed is the tension driving engine and therefore the main complication, which ought to be introduced in the opening, say, by the sister and brother witnessing the execution of an afflicted stranger. First crisis. Second crisis, one of them is afflicted. Third crisis, the other realizes the onset of affliction. I don't see a favorable outcome, unless the affliction can be cured. Which could be a potential subcomplication related to the main one, posing further doubt of outcome until the bitter end. That might mean another character pursuing the cure, though.

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 12:42 pm
by dios4vida
I like the idea as well. I read tons of fantasy, dark and light, and I don't think it's too much. In fact, I think it's pretty interesting!!

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 2:14 pm
by maybegenius
Definitely not too dark, in my opinion :) They're are certainly books with darker elements that have achieved huge success. I mean... The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The premise of that book is essentially ex-Nazi serial killers that torture, rape and kill women. And it's a bestseller. Also, I think of many Stephen King novels. Those can get pretty twisted.

As far as I'm concerned, there's no real limit for how dark you can get in fiction. There's certainly a limit to who will publish or buy your book if it has certain themes in it, but I don't think insanity and possible fratricide are themes that will turn off readers too badly. It's important to keep in mind that, no matter WHAT we do as writers, someone's always going to have a problem with our story. Always. It's just so subjective. But you'll also have likely have an audience for it :)

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 9:09 pm
by tinsoldier
So basically my inner critic is just being too paranoid on this particular point. :) Thanks for all the advise guys, I really appreciate it.

And polymath, you're awesome. Your post just gave me a brilliant kick out of a patch of writer's block.

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 4th, 2010, 10:27 pm
by polymath
Cool, tinsoldier. It's good when it comes together.

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 5th, 2010, 5:11 am
by TigerGray
I very much believe in writing the story you want to write. Every thing imaginable has been published before, at least once.

Look up the Painted Bird if you want an example.

Re: How dark is TOO dark?

Posted: September 7th, 2010, 2:54 pm
by sierramcconnell
If executed well, there is no such thing as too dark. You just have to make it believable.

If she were raised that this were a possibility, then she would most likely have no attachment to him, and he would be just another body to her. It would be a militaristic society. Cold and emotionless.

Dark is fun. Especially when executed well.