1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

It gets kind of Dark.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Nihilium 7th, Jul 7, 2015.

  1. Nihilium 7th

    Nihilium 7th Sage

    294
    21
    18
    My current Wip has a lot of "adult" themes in in it and many dark and violent things occur through out the story (Rape, cannibalism, pedophilia etc.). I know that adult/graphic themes aren't new to fantasy but just how dark and shocking can one go without seeming.......tacky?
     
  2. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

    530
    228
    43
    Will, it always depends on context. I use a lot of violence and dark elements because the themes of my stories usually relate to it. If these dark elements feel forced or don't fit with the rest of the tone, then you need to work on it. I'm not usually worried about what's tacky or not, but there are inappropriate ways to write such things like rape and pedophilia, but again it always depends on context.
     
    Nihilium 7th likes this.
  3. This kind of depends on how you present these things. If you present rape and pedophilia as a "good" thing then the work will be repugnant to most people. But if you present it as a problem, something utterly repugnant, then the work will be less of a problem. That is not to say all controversy will be eliminated, it won't be, but there is no argument that you are endorsing such activities.
     
    Nihilium 7th likes this.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    3,000
    1,730
    163
    You can get away with quite a lot. It's not what you present that matters. It's the skill in which you handle it that matters. Thoughtfully handled, the darkest of subjects can be made digestible. Clumsily handled, the most innocuous subject can be made offensive.
     
    Nihilium 7th likes this.
  5. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    1,596
    1,010
    163
    My general issue with using really dark subject matter is that it can come across as a transparent ploy by the author, as in "I want to show that this villain is really terrible, so I'll make him a pedophile" or "I want to make this marauding army horrible so I'll describe graphic rape, and then nobody can question it" or "I want people to sympathize with this character so I'll put them through terrible trauma" like awful things are some kind of writing trump card. It is easy to be turned off by over-the-top drama like this, and it can also erase all subtlety or grey area from the story.

    You can write anything, but you should take care to write it well. When you're dealing with issues and trauma that destroy people's lives in real life, make it a careful and nuanced depiction. Consider why you're adding it. Is it just to make things more "gritty"? Does it fit with the tone and themes of the story? Do the characters interact with it in deep and complex ways? Whether or not your particular scenes work or not would be best figured out by having someone read it--preferably multiple someones. There is no global "Never do this", but there's also no global "Yeah, that's fine." It all depends on the writing.
     
  6. Kazzan

    Kazzan Dreamer

    13
    5
    3
    Be careful not to just add "adult" themes just for the sake of it. It can easily come across being edgy just for the sake of it. if there is a good reson with plot significance and if these are themes that actually get handled rather than just existing for the sake of a darker story.

    When reading Joe Abercrombies "Best Served Cold" I kind of felt he went a bit overboard with his adult themes. Basically all his characters were rotten and it started feeling like he was doing just to have a dark and "edgy" story.

    Basically if there is a legitimate reason for their inclusion into the story you want to tell then as long as you feel it will work. Things happen for a reason in works of fiction.
     
    Nihilium 7th and Miskatonic like this.
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    1,908
    578
    113
    I think one major factor is how well the elements fit together. For instance, the central plot of Pillars of Eternity is that babies are being born without souls. That means you've got a black market in abortifacients to prevent soulless babies from being born, violence against a mother blamed for her baby's soullessness, incest in a futile attempt to keep a bloodline "pure" and avoid soullessness, violence to drive native peoples off their lands because babies born in those lands still have souls . . . I don't think there's ever an instance of "here's rape because we wanted there to be rape" or anything like that. It all comes back to the central story.
     
    Nihilium 7th likes this.
  8. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    174
    43
    Unless you live on top of a mountain and prefer to be paid in smiles rather than money, I would save those subjects for real world exposés.

    You only have to spend a few minutes reading negative reviews to get a vibe for how an audience will react to any of those things.

    It's certainly very easy to point out societal stereotypes associated with any of the acts.

    Because of that reason, we might be able to assume that any shock value has become null in modern society. Given that assumption, you're only going to be able to tap into anger.

    That's not to say that some people are not in denial, ( or at least publicly), but the majority of those types of people probably never read anyway.

    So if you're already limiting yourself by trying to attract just a reading audience, then I think it's safe to say you are poking the stick of exploration at a crowd of higher IQs.

    At that point you have to ask yourself which of the two remaining target groups do you hope to infuriate?

    A: The skeptics?

    or

    B: The believers?

    Both are a can of worms.

    I suggest: keep it real or keep it fun (fantastical).

    If we're not entertaining people, we're either boring them or pissing them off, both of which lead to dismal sales.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
    Nihilium 7th likes this.
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    1,908
    578
    113
    Counterpoint: Game of Thrones becomes fastest-selling box set in a decade - Telegraph
     
  10. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    174
    43
    I don't consider Game of Thrones to be dark.
     
  11. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    276
    42
    28
    Perhaps not to well-versed readers such as ourselves, but to a lot of the general population it is considered to be pretty dark. But I definitely agree that if you go too dark, you do risk alienating a chunk of your potential audience. Martin does it in a way that is workable. It has more of a feeling of "well these things are messed up but they do happen", so I have problems with what is happening, but I can handle it. I personally use some darker themes in my current story, but I definitely make sure to only use them when it works/makes sense.
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,651
    3,621
    313
    The list from the OP raised alarm bells for me. It sounds like piling on. Any one of those actions is dark enough in itself. Truly horrible. If the story is an exploration of those, then it should be about just one of those. And I agree that it's really going to be more effective if it's non-fantasy. You don't find a lot of memorable SF about rape. It's simply not the right genre.

    And if the story is about something else, then rape and pedophilia simply become decoration--dramatic lighting to make the story seem lurid. But the odds are, no matter how well you right it, it will be a distraction at best and an offense at worst.

    If the OP feels a need to write about the topics, then I recommend contemporary literature. If the OP feels a need to make horrid villains, I recommend a different approach.
     
    Russ likes this.
  13. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,162
    1,127
    163
    I think SK makes an important point. I was reading the OP and thinking "what kind of plot really needs all those things to deliver a thematic message."

    It kind of read like the "checklist of evil" to me.
     
  14. Nihilium 7th

    Nihilium 7th Sage

    294
    21
    18
    The thing is, in my wip, some of the characters who would be seen as "good guys" take part in some pretty repugnant acts. For example, one of the main characters turns out to have an addiction to dissecting corpses (preferably warm.). the addiction later evolves into cannibalism (which is explained in great detail.). Besides that he is an extremely likable character with almost no other flaws beyond being manipulative.

    Another character is a rapist who finds out that torturing people sates his need to rape. There are a few situations where he has to decide on whether to rape someone or wait until he has the chance to torture a prisoner. One such event has him choose between torturing a man who's death will save a main character or raping a serial pedophile.

    One of my beta-readers said that doing things like that forces the reader to make the decision themselves. She then said that involving the readers in situations like that might turn them off from reading.

    Good and evil are subjective terms in the story and only a few characters that are focused on take part in vile acts; when they do it's for a good reason. Some of them hate themselves for what they do and really try to change. Others are cursed and have no choice and then you have the ones who embrace and love the things they do.
    In short I never right graphic things just for the sake of it there has to be a reason eyond shock value and making someone seem evil.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2015
  15. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    1,596
    1,010
    163
    ...Yeah, literally everything you've described there turns me off from reading. The cannibal and the rapist are supposed to be likeable characters? The willing audience for story like that would be very, very niche...

    A fantastic author might be able to pull that off. I'm struggling to think of how, though. Can I ask what led you to develop these characters? Is there an element of black humor, or is this supposed to be an over-the-top dark world...?
     
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  16. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    9,872
    2,884
    413
    This reminds me of another post in which the OP asked if his pixie-eating character was irredeemable.

    I felt like the pixie-eater's story may have had somewhat of a chance in the dark humor department, where you have this character who tortures people so he won't… yeah, that's going to alienate readers. I would expect that GRRM, even with all his fame, has managed to alienate some people with this constant depiction of abuse, and D&D (the GoT show runners) may have alienated more people by taking an already evil character and making him a pedophile so…
    …his "secret" would make him even more evil and conveniently set him up for Death by Arya.

    I don't expect many readers would make the attempt to identify with these characters or justify the proposed dilemma. I agree with what your beta reader said, and will add that rather than make the decision myself I'm coming up with a plausible third option.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  17. Nihilium 7th

    Nihilium 7th Sage

    294
    21
    18
    There is some dark humor in the story but it is not the focus of a lot of things that happen. The world in the novel is in a period war it has never seen before and society has fallen into a state of depravity because of it. At first I was going to have no instances of graphic depictions outside the realm of violence done in battle. As I went on I realized that just have people comment on the vileness of society wouldn't do the story justice. So I decided to make the story more graphic. A majority of the graphic scenes are described in detail and a lot is left up to the readers imagination. There are a handful of scenes where the acts are described in detail but only because something was happening that was important to the plot or character.
    For example the scene I explained above where a choice had to be made was never shown in the story, only the out come of his decision. Many other scenes are described through a characters vivid hallucinations. So instead of eating someones spleen he sees himself eating a steak.
    I never go dark for the sake of going dark In fact, the dark scenes are about 15% of the story.
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,651
    3,621
    313
    This was the original question
    I know that adult/graphic themes aren't new to fantasy but just how dark and shocking can one go without seeming.......tacky?

    My answer is: that far. The things you described. I can't picture a character or situation that would be so interesting I would want to read about cannibalism in great detail. If I want that, I'll read an anthropologist writing about real cannibals. I tried to say this before but perhaps I wasn't clear enough. There's a place for the themes described. That place is not fantasy. Nor is it science fiction, nor is it cozy mysteries, nor is it pulp adventure novels. This is not to say it shouldn't be written; only that I won't read it in that genre. I *might* read it if it's contemporary literature or if it's a true-life account.
     
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,162
    1,127
    163
    With great respect, I disagree with your contention. All the dilemmas, human frailties and epic struggles you apparently want to write about can be explored in aggressive and dramatic ways without cannibalism or raping serial pedophiles. The reason such extremes are chosen is to shock.

    I am not sure what the theme or message of your WIP is, or what your goal for it is, but I don't think there is anything resembling a market for it.
     
    Miskatonic likes this.
  20. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,924
    163
    Making a villain a pedophile has become one of those things that make people roll their eyes. Writers think it's an easy way to establish evil, but the pedophilia needs to have a purpose in the story. Otherwise, it's just a prop, and a poor one at that.

    If for example, that part of the story was center stage & the author was one with exceptional skill (like in Nabokov's Lolita) then it serves a purpose. It is the character. It is the story.

    As with any choice, we need to be mindful of the purpose it serves in our story. This is especially true when dealing with sensitive issues.

    If you want to shock people, I say go for it. But do it justice with proper storytelling. Don't use shock as a cheap and easy device. It won't be well received.
     
Loading...

Share This Page