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becoming grim-dark

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ascanius, Jan 23, 2014.

  1. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    So lately with all my world building, plot, characters etc I think I have created the apex of all crapsack world world's. Mostly it's my characters though. Horrible and horrific things happen to them and not one gets justice for what the endure. There is rape, torture, slavery, prostitution, war, violence, disease. One of my male MC's goes through all of those but disease, others one or two but on avarage three.

    I think my problem is how I create my characters.
    I usually pluck them from the news. My favorite character is inspired by reading about a missing 7 year old girl. I decided I wanted to write a story about a person who survived the atrocities that is humanity and saves others from similar. She is the type of person that if you ever meet her in real life you would show your pity, try not to stare, be very polite and hope you never have to talk to again.

    Another character I got from reading about human trafficking and watching a documentary about a teenage prostitute who ended up killing a man. The characters just seem to happen, I see our read something and bam a fully developed character pops in my head. I go home and write it down and work on the little details on how it fits with everything else I have. Doesn't seem to work with good news though, normal characters tend to be like trying to climb Everest on my hands and knees.

    The thing is I like my characters, I like the idea of have the heroes being the people society forgets even exist. The only thing is I worry it is too much.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
  2. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    I might set down a book if a writer puts rape/torture on the main set and focuses on it. I'm not saying don't write about those things...it's just a really delicate line between being authentic to the characters and having it seem like intimate authorial confession about their own desires (i.e. their own visions of their sex fantasies playing out). I've read the latter, but have had very few experiences reading authentic to character reactions to either of those scenarios.

    I think the key to writing any of the characters going through any of the items you listed above is to do a ton of research. Research into displaced persons/refugee camps for how war affects people (disease, cramped living quarters, lack of sanitation, limited supplies). Research/read about survivors of rape. Research how torture affects those being tortured and the ones who do the acts of torture (the scandals in the Middle East conflict of the last 10 years would be a good place to start maybe?).

    The rest of it? I don't mind so much. However, there should be something that's positive throughout the whole piece. A silver lining, if you will. Yes, it's really really dark, but the MC still has their dog/cat/lucky rabbit, for example.

    I would also recommend reading Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold if you haven't already. That was dark and the MC was dark as hell. But, you also spent the majority of the book hoping that she triumphed, even if you don't agree with revenge or what she is doing.
     
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  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    It depends. As long as it's not darkness for the sake of being dark, it doesn't matter. As long as you have a point to things happening and the way things are, then you're fine.

    But if you're just putting the character through these hardships just because you can and there's not any strong reasoning for it, then it becomes akin to those torture porn movies that were in vogue a little while back.

    I wrote a very dark story for a collage writing class once. It was dark for the sake of being dark and to surprise the reader and that was it's whole purpose for existing. I got taken aside by my instructor and we had a talk that took a while to sink in. Violence shouldn't be used in a story without good reason.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
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  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    In my opinion, the key to writing about concepts like these doesn't hinge on the depiction of the events. Rather, it's how the characters respond to these happenings. That's where the story lies.


    I don't need to read about a teenager actively engaging in prostitution to understand the hard life they are living. I don't really need to see every detail of someone's torture. Sometimes strong hints and context can be more effective. It's how that character responds to the environment & other characters that makes the story.

    That doesn't mean you shouldn't be willing to write about the darker elements of humanity. Just make certain you're choosing to write, and describe, those things because they are necessary for the story.

    I've read battle scenes that were marvelous and extremely violent that served the story and its characters well. I've read gratuitous fighting that added nothing more than confusion. I've read books where major battles were completely skipped and it worked wonderfully. It worked because what happened during the battle was not as important as the events leading up to, and immediately after, the combat.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
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  5. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I posted Eternal chapter by chapter, so I got to see when people stopped reading. The first chapter outlined decent characters in a dark world, with some reference to what they'd undergone, and it got a positive response. The second and third chapters contained depictions of sexual violence, and the story hemorrhaged viewers. However, the story's star rating only took a slight hit, and the comments left were largely positive--even people who couldn't stomach the violence appreciated that I warned for it. In addition, the folks who read through the violence were willing to keep reading when the story turned more optimistic. It's a sample size of one, but I think it at least demonstrates that grimdark can limit your audience whether or not it's well-written.

    As for your case, what specifically worries me is the statement that they don't receive justice. Is there any way in which a reader can root for them, or are they so thoroughly doomed as to remove the possibility that they could succeed at something?
     
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  6. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    Along this line of reasoning, depression/anxiety is going to be one of the major after effects of any of the stuff you'll be handling. The best representation that I've seen of depression in recent memory is the Dr Who episode where the Doctor meets up with Vincent Van Gogh. It does go a little over the top and it gets a little maudlin, but on the worst days of dealing with depression Van Gogh's actions are realistic. (From personal experience, yes depression is dark and apathetic. But there are times where it feels like if only you could cry out all the sadness in the world, surely you would feel better afterwards.)

    Like any emotions used in writing, however, this has to be tempered...otherwise you end up with Lucy Manette and Dickensian literature.
     
  7. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    One of my beta readers called my WIP "A Connecticut Yankee in Westeros."

    Write what you write. Grit happens.
     
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  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Firstly, I have noticed people using the term grimdark more and more. From what I understand, it's not really a positive label. But perhaps since Joe Abercrombie took it as a badge of honor, it's becoming a more acceptable term? If that's the case, in some instances I might be considered a "grimdark" writer, although I believe my writing is pulling away from that.

    Yes, I have some bits of extreme violence, but the reason for this is because I believe if you have a character fighting demonic presences and monsters, there has to be some kind of violence. And that violence isn't always going to be, "And she cut the demon down." I prefer to be more graphic to convey a certain image. This doesn't mean splaying intestines in every scene, but it does mean I require to write a good amount of bloody scenes. The way I handle this is that I make these scenes more significant. Instead of having each pages blood-soaked in tragedy and horrible images, I try to have moments of peace so the action scenes don't wear out the reader.

    So if your writing is just a slog through every single horrible thing that can happen to a person, then it might become tiresome for some. I believe that making your MC suffer in some way is key to having readers connect with him or her. This doesn't have to mean stabbing and beating him, but just keeping him out of reach of his goals. If his goal is to ask a pretty girl on a date, but he gets rejected that can be more devastating than having his eyeball ripped out for some readers. I think even the grimmest of writers balance their worlds between moments of peace and ones of darkness. You just have to let the reader up for air now and again.

    However, that said, I think if having your character suffer substantially through the whole novel is working for you, then by all means continue. But I assume since you posted this thread you feel like it may not be the best decision or your questioning it in any case.
     
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  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I thought the term came from Warhammer. So I consider it a positive, because Warhammer :)
     
  10. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I don't think of myself as a "grim-dark" fan, but I have a soft spot for bittersweet endings. Maybe they don't count as grim, but they're not all that cheerful either. I guess that puts me in the middle of the spectrum.
     
  11. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    It came from Warhammer, but it was a phrase used to criticize the darker fiction that was coming out. There are dozens of articles about the topic, most in which grimdark is used as a critical phrase. However, I do think it's taken on a more positive meaning for people that like it, while it still has a more negative meaning for people who don't.
     
  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I don't know much about Warhammer Fantasy, but it's a noted trend in Warhammer 40K that the game fluff (which is essentially optional to the gameplay) is much more grimdark than the novels (in which you're expected to actually care about the characters.) Furthermore, the most popular Warhammer 40K novels tend to be the least grim of the lot (like the tongue-in-cheek Ciaphas Cain series, or the actiony Gaunt's Ghosts series.)
     
  13. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    I mean justice in the sense of justice against their perpetrators. Case in point, my favorite MC happens upon a funeral in the street, she discovers that the man who died peacefully in his sleep with family and friends around was the same man who kidnapped, imprisoned, mutilated, and raped her for six years when she was a child. He is the one responsible for how F'd up she is currently. FYI, The reader never knows exactly what happens. They learn through nightmares that something happened (vague and larger than life) that left her scarred, with trust and other issues. I'm just leaving hits that something happened, the reader never knows what. However for the other characters the reader will know. I think this is the thing that's been bugging me the most is there is no justice. The character above is the one who comes closest to it, hell she at least gets closure the others don't. There is no hero seeking revenge for him/herself or loved ones and slaying the evil villain at the end of the day. This is the thing that I'm struggling to come to grips with and also the thing that makes everything else so dark, it's not like my characters are out there fighting for social change either.

    Don't get me wrong they each have their own hopes and dreams that they try to accomplish.
     
  14. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    A couple of things occur to me.

    First there is a point at which I and a lot of other readers will walk away - if not run. For me the Gap series - Stephen Donaldson -was that point. After reading the first book and the first part of the second I realised that there was simply no point. As a reader I want to empathise with the characters. I want to root for them. I want them to do well. And in the Gap series I realised that there was no recovery possible for the characters. Even had they killed all the baddies, saved the universe, found true love, been lauded as heroes, made ludicrously rich etc etc, with that sort of background I would prefer to be dead in their shoes.

    Second you say there is no justice. Justice isn't necessary, but some sort of upside is. A triumph over the bad that has beset them. A chance of hope etc. Consider that I could write a story about a wrongfully convicted man in the middle ages who was convicted, and sent to a torturer's prison hole where he spent the next five years being whipped and tortured before finally being hung, drawn and quartered. But who the hell would want to read it? Even the Count of Monte Christo escaped after twenty one years. And Braveheart died well but his name and dreams lived on.

    You have to give the reader something.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Aw, I liked the Gap series ;)
     
  16. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I have a colleague who liked it as well. He suffers from severe clinical depression. Just saying.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't think I'd like that kind of thing if I had depression. But I don't mind books where characters are unlikable. Look at Nabokov's "Lolita," for example. Brilliant book, but you can't like the protagonist.
     
  18. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Grim-dark will totally put me off as a reader. I've tried a few things on the grim-dark side and swore never again.

    But EVERYTHING you could possibly write will attract certain readers and repel others. There are lots of things besides grim-dark that I don't want to read. I don't, as a rule, want to read urban fantasy or historical fantasy or a fantasy romance. (Though admittedly, I will read any of those things if they seem interesting enough, grim-dark is the only one I'm against on principle.) You can't write a book for everyone. You write a book for the people who WILL like it, not the people who won't.
     
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  19. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    It's actually kind of hard to say who is grimdark anyway since it's not really an established sub-genre that most authors own up to. As far as I know, Joe Abercrombie is the only one that does, but he does it in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way. I'm not sure there are lots of writers who say "I write grimdark." Maybe I'm wrong and this is becoming a thing.

    Basically it just means stories with dark subject matter in them. Many people die (like real life), people backstab each other (like real life), bad things happen (like real life) and some characters have a grim outlook on life (like real life.) One thing that might work against it in the fantasy genre is that some people come to it for escapism. If they face an onslaught of misery and despair at every turn, then they may want to go back to reality where things are a bit more balance. Even work by Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Richard K. Morgan and others aren't dark all of the time. I've actually yet to come across a perceived grimdark book that I couldn't stomach. This coming from someone who has read horror writers like Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee. You want to really go grim, go read them. I'd never read stories that made me feel physically drained afterwards (in a good way), but they managed to do it. Those guys make grimdark look like stories about happy unicorns.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2014
  20. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

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    I think there's a difference between violence and gore. I won't easily read gore. I will read violence, provided that it is an integral part of the story and not thrown in for shock value. Rape is a particularly problematic issue and any graphic description of a rape is likely to be interpreted as misogynistic. A lot of women readers I know are tired of having every heroine in danger of rape at some point in the book; others argue that women *are* in frequent danger of rape, not just in fantasy-type eras but now. The line between depicting something realistically and appearing to endorse or support it is really thin when it comes to rape (and by extension, violence against women).

    There are "mainstream" writers who write pretty dark stuff, I would recommend reading some of them. My 2 favorite books at the moment to recommend along these lines are Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and William Faulkner's Sanctuary. Both get away with writing really horrific, appalling stuff because the language and characterizations are so strong. Toni Morrison's Beloved is pretty brutal and dark in places too, but it's really an amazing book.

    Oh, and Flannery O'Connor too.
     
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