Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Makes a Story Dark?

The other day Patti Abbott asked a question on her blog that has kept me mulling over the idea of what is dark fiction.  She asked "What is the darkest book you've ever read?".  There was a great variety of answers covering several genres.

When thinking about what my choices would be I thought about the novel "No Human Involved" by Barbara Seranella.  There was a sadness in the book that made me feel sorry for the main character and the life that she'd been forced to live.  The other book is one that I'm currently rereading, "Beach Music" by Pat Conroy.  And here, too, there's an overwhelming sense of sadness in the book.  For me, these two book are dark fiction.

Some readers might consider dark fiction to be something psychologically horrifying or pages of victims soaked in blood.  Even fantasy can be dark.  I recently read "Sandman Slim" by Richard Kadrey and found that very dark indeed.

So I guess I'm wondering what exactly makes a story dark?  Is it the dark feelings that create a sadness in the reader or is it just an atmosphere you drop the reader into (I read a lot of Gothics and they always stirred a feeling of dread inside me.)?

I expect every reader has a different idea of what is dark and why.  What makes a story dark for you?


Al Tucher said...

I think "dread" sums it up. The story induces dread, and the ending justifies it.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's a tough question. I think, for me, darkness is related to the level of man's inhumanity to man. Those that reveal the urges toward causing pain and torment, either physical or mental, to other humans. This is what makes much true crime very dark to me, and--for me--mostly unreadable.

Loren Eaton said...

Extreme content and/or thematic hopelessness. Cormac McCarthy's The Road is an example of the former, while Scott Smith's The Ruins is both.

Loren Eaton said...

That should've been "has both." *facepalm*

sandra seamans said...

Dread works, Al. Most stories give us a certain of dread of what could happen.

Yes, Charles, I think it's easier to read crime fiction than true crime. You can still try to understand the whys without knowing that someone was sick enough to actually do it.

The Road was a very dark read, Loren. You kept hoping for something good to happen, but it rarely did. Even the ending left you wondering. I've never read The Ruins - I tried to watch the movie but couldn't. Too gruesome.

Linda Maye Adams said...

I've been told my past stories are dark. Evidently so dark that even the dark publications won't take them. Yet, the stories aren't gory. or even violent.

But they don't end happily, where everything wraps up. One part of it, for me, comes from being a private in the military. Sometimes you really get screwed over, and because you're only a lowly private, there's nothing you can do to resolve your situation except fix something with yourself.

If you want really dark, try Philip Klay's book Redeployment. That book was so dark I had trouble with it. After people told me I was writing very dark, that book made me realize I didn't want to go down that path.

sandra seamans said...

Writing dark can be very difficult, Linda. I tried writing a lot of neo-noir but it just turned my stomach. I still write dark stories because that's where most of my stories take me, but I try to keep most of the blood and gore off the page. And finding markets for that type of story can be difficult.

Linda Maye Adams said...

It's a little too easy for me to go dark. I've had to focus a lot on ideas that wouldn't start me on that path. Evidently, I'm drawn to it.

sandra seamans said...

I used to write a lot of humor, especially flash fiction, but finding markets for it was nearly impossible. Plus, the more I wrote, the more the darkness crept into my words. It felt...cathartic, like releasing demons that had been chasing me since childhood. Now, I try to look for a happier ending with some hope that people aren't all bad. I guess like everyone else I'm looking for answers and I tend to find them in the dark regions of my mind.