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  1. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    Properly Incoprorating Dark Themes Into my Writing?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by isaac223, Nov 25, 2016.

    I probably shouldn't try to speak for everyone, but I'm almost certain we've all heard the term "edgy" used to describe things in writing that are dark if done, of course, improperly. However, I've been experimenting with including dark themes in my writing that I feel would enrich some character and plot arcs, but I would like to know to go about including dark elements -- taboo subjects, psychopathy, insanity, mental illnesses, etc etc. -- but in a manner that properly complements the rest of the works and wouldn't be considered "edgy." I'd like to give these subjects the respect they deserve while utilizing them to round out characters, their personalities, their motivations and their lives and the lore of the world if able, and so not to be considered "edgy."
     
  2. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    You mention "taboo subjects", but I don't find those elements you list as taboo in the least.
    To my thinking, a taboo should seriously repel me in some fashion. Also, I'm not sure you need to give these taboos any added respect. Just exploit them like any other device to tell the story.
     
  3. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    I didn't say "taboo subjects, such as" I listed taboo subjects with the other elements as there are too many taboo subjects for me to take a shot at listing them all. Sorry if my writing was unclear.
     
  4. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    That's cool.
    It's an interesting topic, and something I will need to consider with the story I'm working on.
     
  5. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    Concentrating more on the forbidden here. Not sure on your genre @isaac223 but with a lot of what I read; I appreciate a piece of work all the more if the author doesn't walk on eggshells should they need or wish to visit such topics. Reading a book after all is a private matter, no-one can see the scene your mind has created from what you've read. And if you don't read it, or it's glossed over in the way it's written then you miss out on the full spectrum and the complexities of the human condition. Yes, censorship for the TV—fine; I feel awkward even if a pair of breasts pop up on the screen when in the co. of others (family mainly), but with books of one's choosing, no watershed eh.

    For writing it (back to the darker tabooed stuff), well I'd like to pull a quote up that's stuck with me.

    "if your work is trying to shine light in the human psyche’s deepest, darkest, illest places, then you have to go there, and be it, and that’s no casual undertaking." — David Mitchell

    I guess it shaves away the last dregs of innocence you may have but the tradeoff is wisdom and more string for your writing bow.

    The above said I also appreciate it too that taboo is depicted in a neutral manner and dosed appropriately. If it's gratuitous for the sake of it or I sense the author has an agenda, then that's the point where I do become repulsed. Iain Banks was good at it, he traversed some seriously creepy/sick territory, yet he never had me think he was damaged/unhinged. Just a damn fine writer and a wise chap.
     
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  6. atsgtm2018

    atsgtm2018 Member

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    Addiction and mental illness are two dark places I like to write about since I have personal experience with them both. Don't tip-toe around the subject, be brutally honest. They tend to be ugly places so tell them as such. Which is hard if you never actually been to these places yourself, which I think was the point above me was trying to say.
     
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  7. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    I never know what people are talking about when they say "dark" unless they're talking about, "Hey. Somebody turn on a light." The mention of addiction and mental illness as "dark"? Even if I try to accept a typical "Goth's" definition of "dark" (including sitting on a tombstone applying black nail polish) I can't see how mental illness, especially for those who are ill, should be characterized as dark.

    Maybe "fortunate" and "unfortunate"? :superthink:Addiction? I've known addicts. I think disappointment would be the word there.

    That being said, whatever flavor, color, depth of lumen, (aura?) involved would be dictated by the story itself.
    Even here, when someone says "dark" the initial responses are ... "And, by 'dark' you mean...?"
     
  8. atsgtm2018

    atsgtm2018 Member

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    Well, I don't believe your suggested words would work well either. Those sound like words coming from someone on "the outside looking in", so in a way your interpretation and how you picture the word "dark" actually enforces my choice of the word for the metaphor. What do you find in places lacking light? You find "monsters", bad things and uneasiness due to the unknown. So its place you don't want to be. Going off the metaphor, addiction and mental places are the "dark places" because those going through it are in place they don't want to be dealing with those "monsters" even though it occurs all inside themselves. So yes, those people just need someone to turn on a light.
     
  9. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Research tip: don't google "X," google "misconceptions about X." Lots of people don't know what they're talking about, and the people who talk about "misconceptions" have looked at both claims to see which is the more correct.

    Execution tip: quick and painless don't deter anyone

    ... I mean: whenever you show something happening, show the consequences of it happening.

    If someone's an addict, then they're not somebody who we laugh at for using a substance at every opportunity, they're somebody who's life is being destroyed. If somebody gets raped, it's not an arousing act of sex, it's a hideous act of violence, and the scars don't go away just so that the survivor can be comfortable having an explicit sex scene 5 chapters later.

    If you don't show, then you're basically a 5-year-old boy dressing up as a skeleton for Halloween, except that wearing skeleton costumes doesn't help to spread real life trauma the way that normalizing addiction and rape help to spread real life trauma. If a culture makes light of anything that should be horrifying, then the horrific thing keeps happening.
     
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  10. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    Well, I don't believe your suggested words would work well either. Those sound like words coming from someone on "the outside looking in", - As I thought, this is "you don't understand me" couched in some self-promoting mystery.

    Let me know when you think of something new.
     
  11. atsgtm2018

    atsgtm2018 Member

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    Eh, or maybe, I'll just leave you in the dark when I do. :)
     
  12. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    Well...that's what I'm saying. You can't. That to which you refer is not obscure. I wasn't asking. I was asking.
     
  13. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    I have to thank each and everyone of you who have responded. Its been a while since I've come back to this thread so there's too many replies for me to thank and discuss individually (which I tend to like to do), but I would like to say that you've all been very helpful.

    As for my use of the word "dark," it is the most common application of novels or subjects involving... more unfortunate, negative themes -- at least, what I've seen, lest I'm actually wrong. I've seen it applied in that manner a lot, rather referring to novels that don't try to show everything in life as bright and cheery, and are not afraid to have bad endings, show negative things that happen to people, such as clinical depression or suicidal/homicidal tendencies.
     
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  14. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    I'm not challenging the concept of "dark". I'm back-door challenging the idea of selecting an attribute and allowing it to dictate terms to you. There are depressing things in life. There are scary things in life. For the most part we're zeroed out in a flat line, neither giddy, nor panicked, nor blindingly optimistic, or cripplingly paranoid. The reality we're reflecting is a kaleidoscope of these things.

    Rather, I think we should let the reality be itself, and if it's a downer in this moment, and hilarious the next, that is what adds the depth to what we do. That adds the subtleties, and textures. Selecting a particular mood for a character, or the events and setting surrounding one can become monotonous regardless of which one it is. Let the STORY decide. . . . multee pass.
     
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  15. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    If you're saying don't deliberately write 'dark,' but instead 'write reality,' then I agree. If reality is terrifying or upsetting or disappointing or hopeless, then, as a writer, let those elements show and explore them as fully as the story requires. But don't go sticking them in just because you think a story could use a few.
     
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  16. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    If you're deliberately seeking "dark" themes, then like it or not you're going for edgy -_-
     
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  17. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Yep - in my recent novella the MCs are two assassins/hit men, and as a result there are some very dark and unpleasant things they do, say and think. I had one editor reject the MS because of these elements, but I couldn't think of a way to tone down their actions and thoughts without downplaying that is takes a pretty terrible person to kill people in cold blood for a living. The challenge of course is that terrible people are hard to empathize with. Even as the story progresses, they don't really become better people. You discover why each of them became the man they are, and the two of them start to become emotionally connected to each other, but as far as anyone outside of their relationship is concerned they remain 100% cold and mercenary.

    I did have another editor accept the novella, which should be published sometime in 2017. I'm very interested to see what reader reaction will be, because it's very different than my first book, which was filled to the brim with likable characters. I expect it won't be as well received, but I also think there's an audience out there even in the romance genre who aren't put off by morally questionable MCs.
     
  18. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    I don't want to write only dark themes, but I want to write reality. However, I'm aware that reality has a lot of unfortunate circumstances in it, and I want to know how to properly incorporate them into my writing. I know how to write particularly intense things, as I'm accustomed to that from fiction, and happy things or what have you, as I'm accustomed to that being apart of my everyday life. However, I don't have the literary or real experience to understand what goes on in the human mind in those situations. I don't want something that's purely dark to be what I write, but I want to be able to properly incorporate these themes if necessary.
     
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  19. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    Morally questionable protagonists are, in my opinion, rather interesting. And not making them become any more likable is also understandable, since all too often do I read novels that shoehorn in unbelievable development just for the sake of making the protagonist resonate well with readers. Not that its my job to reassure you or anything, especially since this is my post asking for help and I'm not sure how well the attempted reassurance of a child who has no idea what he's talking about will help you, but I'm sure your novel will do well with anyone who knows not to judge a novel purely because an unlikable protagonist is the star. I personally think a believable character is better than a likable character.
     
  20. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think you'll figure it out when it actually happens. If you're just worrying about a hypothetical writing situation, I'd say don't. Just write the story you want to write, and if it gets dark, stay honest. You use the same exact method of 'getting into' your character, whether the situation is happy, sad, scary, disturbing, whatever. Just put yourself in the shoes (and head) of your characters, while staying in character, and you'll be fine. I suspect most people who write 'dark' stories haven't actually experienced the things they write about themselves. Just write your story and see how it turns out.
     
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  21. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Exactly.

    One of my protagonists went from

    *being raped at 15
    *trying to get back at the guy by showing him what violence feels like, but finding out after the fact that he went to the police to report her
    *running away and living on the streets with PTSD
    *discovering at 20 that beating people to death helped keep the nightmares and the flashbacks away
    *making headlines as the Deadliest Female Serial Killer in American History by the age of 21
    *getting a job enforcing for a drug dealer
    *having a stable enough living situation to afford professional therapy
    *finding out that group sessions and anti-anxiety medication worked even better than serial murder

    She hasn't stopped killing people because she's grown a conscience since starting therapy, but she has stopped killing people outside of work (for the most part) because it's gotten boring now that it's not therapeutic anymore

    Her being raped is not supposed to "excuse" her being a serial killer, and she would bash your skull in if you told her that it was. She feels very strongly that Nature is more important than Nurture, that millions of people go through the things that she did without turning out the way that she did (Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga) and that dozens if not hundreds or thousands of people turn out the way that she did without going through the things that she did (Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer), and she feels that she has far more in common with the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer than she does with the likes of Oprah Winfrey (though she does feel she has even more in common with the overlaps like Aileen Wournos or Henry Lee Lucas).

    When I realized how much I liked her backstory, my thinking wasn't "rape is cool, serial killers are cool, and rape victims turning into serial killers are cool." My thinking was "People in the real world are getting hurt because the general public don't understand how rape, PTSD, and/or therapy work, and this is my chance to show the public the truth: rape is not a sex crime, rape is a violent crime; mental illness is not something to 'get over,' mental illness is something to get treatment for; and when your options are 1) report a crime to the police, 2) don't do anything, or 3) get back at the criminal yourself, option 1 might be a lot harder than option 2, but it is a hell of a lot more effective than option 3."

    Neither did I.

    On another website that I go to, a couple of my friends (and rivals :meh:) talk occasionally about having survived trauma in their real lives. I did a lot of online research into writing about rape and PTSD when I came up with this backstory, but I didn't want to take the risk of my lack of trauma in my personal life coloring my portrayal in a way that I wouldn't recognize just from reading about it on the internet.

    So I asked some of them to go over my notes for me. I wouldn't trade their feedback for anything.
     
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  22. isaac223

    isaac223 Active Member

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    Well, that's a good idea, at least. Research is always helpful, I suppose, but asking a direct source would also be incredibly helpful, so I may do what you did. Fortunately, I've never experienced any real trauma in my life, so I can at the very least be happy knowing that, but my lack of experience in any form makes writing much of anything very difficult at times.
     
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  23. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    What's wrong with edgy? I love edgy writing. And I think we all know when a story is dark or not. I don't really think about themes while I'm writing the story. I'm focused on story and characters, and somehow through that themes can emerge. I think it could be a mistake to think of themes first, but maybe it will work for you. I just don't think it would for me. Thinking too much about the themes in your writing can be a distraction from the actual story you have to write. That being said, I do intentionally set out to write dark and edgy stuff a lot of the time. I think so many writers try to do this. I would think the ones that people call edgy are the good ones. I would love for someone to say my work is edgy.
     
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