While there is still some debate about whether it’s a legit sub-genre or not, grimdark has become part of the fantasy lexicon in recent years.
I actually like a lot of the authors that some label as grimdark, so I’m a bit torn on if it’s a good or bad thing. The term can be used to define fantasy with more realistic grit, where morals are gray and blood is bright red. Sounds cool to me.
However, on the flip side, it’s also used as a pejorative term for fiction that is perceived as too bleak, dark, and soul-sucking. This being the opposite of the good vs. evil type of conflicts that may be more familiar for fans of fantasy.
Well, I’m here to show you that grimdark doesn’t have to be unpleasant at all. Below are some helpful tips (for readers and writers) for surviving a grimdark book without losing your lunch and/or faith in humanity.
1. Audio Books are Your Friends
Do you get squeamish when the morally objectionable main character tears out someone’s spine and beats him to death with it? Well, the magic of audio books is that you can skip the icky parts and move right on to…um…more icky parts?
2. Clean Up the Potty Mouth
Grimdark tends to use lots of naughty language in order to develop characters and/or piss off people that don’t like that kind of thing. Before sitting down to write, go out in public and spew as many profanities as you can. Go to a train station, a rodeo, a petting zoo, wherever you feel comfortable. Once you’ve said #*&$! and *$@!#*~ to every person you see within a five mile radius, you’ll feel no need to populate your novel with such foul language. You’ll also make the world a brighter place for made up fantasy curses like, “flimberpile” or “slackpoodle.”
3. Replace the Word “Blood” with “Ponies”
Going a step further, you may want to clean up some of the grotesque imagery as well. Go through your grimdark book and cross out all the instances of “blood.” After that, replace them with “ponies.” It’s definitely more pleasant to read “Ponies spilled from his ravaged throat” or “A pool of ponies spread out across the filthy dungeon floor.” Ponies make everything more pleasant. Note: If ponies aren’t your thing, you can try pudding, avocados, or Benedict Cumberbatch.
4. Why Have Gray Morality? Why Not Green or Fuscia?
While gray morality is all the rage in grimdark fiction, who says morality has to be black, white, or gray? Experiment with different colors. See if you can really stretch the definition of morality to new levels. “My main character has sort of a lime green morality. He just randomly butchers leprechauns.” Become a philosopher. That’s the ticket, Socrates!
5. Kill Things That Don’t Make Squishy Messes
It’s unavoidable to write a fantasy book without killing in it, right? If you’re going to have your grimdark cast go about wantonly killing things, make these graphic scenes easy on the eyes, ears, and stomach. Think of creatures that can be destroyed without making you feel queasy. For example, paper, wood, Styrofoam, jellybeans, etc. If your characters fight morally gray wood golems, when the battle is over, they’ll have a nice stack of morally gray firewood to set up camp. Everyone loves a good camp story!
6. Don’t Eat Before Writing
If you must splash the pages of your novel with bucketfuls of blood, then make sure to wait thirty minutes after eating before indulging in a bit of grimdark. After the time has passed, feel free to wade knee-deep into steaming mounds of goat demon viscera (or non-goat demon viscera, whichever works better.)
7. Write with Happy Music Playing
Want to shake off the grimdark blues? Characters saying things like “I don’t give a sh*t” or “Let him die” too much? Play some happy music while you’re writing and you might just get “I really care deeply about your emotional and physical well-being” or “Let him eat cake” instead. Happy music=well-adjusted characters.
8. Dogs Wearing Hats
Nothing un-grims a book like dogs wearing hats! Hell, make your main character a hat-wearing dog. For example, Miss Prissbottom Snickerdoodle, the Sorceress of Bleak Bonehouse. This dog should most likely be a pug because pugs look the cutest while wearing hats. (Feel free to vigorously discuss in the comment section.)
9. Make Up Your Own Objectionable Sub-Genre and See if it Catches On
You can do like I did and create your own sub-genre like my brainchild (brainfart?) Splatter-Elf. Splatter-Elf is like grimdark except that it’s weird, surreal, and sometimes bat doo-doo crazy. I imagine it’s like Mortal Kombat meets 80s cartoons meets that scene with the lawnmower in Braindead (aka Dead Alive). Cheese+gore+grim+undead unicorns+awesome=Splatter-Elf. I figure if I keep saying “_______ is totally Splatter-Elf” or “No, I don’t think _______ is Splatter-Elf, it’s more like dark YA potatopunk,” it will catch on. People like to debate what something is or isn’t. So give it a try! (And if you’re curious, here’s an introduction to Splatter-Elf.)
10. Stop Reading and/or Writing Period
The best solution to avoid something is to stop doing it. For instance, when I wanted acid-spitting imps to quit plaguing my dreams, I stopped sleeping. So if you really want to avoid being labeled as a grimdark reader or writer, just don’t partake in either activity. Problem solved!
You could also try “ostrichpunk” which is fiction where everyone buries their heads in the sand.
In conclusion, if you’re planning on visiting any grimdark worlds in the near future, you may need a sick bag, a psychiatrist, or this handy list.
Have you dabbled in any of the grittier, darker, grimmer, squishier kinds of fantasy? How did you survive? Please share your comments below.
Or as we say in grimdark, “Share or I’ll slice your face off and wear it as a hat.”
For discussion of all things fantasy-related, check out Philip Overby’s Fantasy Free-for-All.