header photo

Lost in The Wood -- Leonard and Ann Marie Wilson

Yes, Dark Fantasy Can Go Too Dark

Woman with Lighted Cigarette Stick on Mouth Photo by Vlada Teaca on Scopio

Time for a visit to Ye Auld Social Media Mailbag.

Q: "Have you ever read dark fantasy so dark that you don't like it? Why?"

If you're looking for a broad psychological reason: why do amusement parks build roller-coasters? I mean, all those curves and hills and loops just interfere with the business of going as fast as physically possible. They slow the ride down. Wouldn't it be a more intense experience if an amusement park was just long and narrow, where the ride accelerated at top speed in a single direction for as long as possible until it had to come to a stop?

Rides aren't built like that because people don't feel speed. They feel change. The coaster whips around, switching up the vector of acceleration because that's way more exciting than unidirectional acceleration. Doing too much of any one thing gets boring at best and can easily proceed through mind-numbing on the way to onerous and oppressive.

Worse, when people try to max out their stimulation from a single source, that source demands more and more and more extreme stimulation to achieve the longed for result, like an addiction. You get used to it, so dark stories that go only one direction—dark—go numb to the depravity they sink into. They reach for all the awfulness they can possibly imagine and keep upping that game until it consumes the narrative and the whole story becomes nothing but torture porn.

(I'm looking at you, A Song of Ice and Fire. Has anyone considered maybe Martin can't finish the books because his imagination's run out of ways to be even more relentlessly awful to his characters?)

All of that is neither socially nor emotionally healthy, and I personally take no joy in being strapped in for that ride.

I'm a writer of dark fantasy myself, but never grimdark. I'm a big believer in the roller coaster. Awful things happen in my stories. So do beautiful things. Horror is counterbalanced with humor. Anger is counterbalanced with joy. Despair is counterbalanced with hope. Insanity is counterbalanced with sobering insight.

If you never change things up, I already know the ending and I'm not going to have fun getting there.

Go Back



Blog Search