1. OnesieWrites

    OnesieWrites Member

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    Writing Grim dark; When's too much?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by OnesieWrites, May 20, 2017.

    So i'm a big fan of manga's like Beserk, Gantz and books like GOT, Prince of Thorns and i am attempting to write my own grim dark fantasy (First Book) tackling very controversial subjects such as death, violence, religion, sexuality, human nature and such.

    My question is, how do i know if iv'e gone too far too early and is there such thing as too much? I don't want to chase off my readers with a graphic scene before they get to the juicy parts or understand whats going on but at the same time i don't want unicorns and rainbows for the first few chapters as i draw my readers in.

    I enjoy action, violence and a story which tackles philosophical or cultural issues, something to make me think and question the status quo whilst keeping me entertained but i know that some people are really put off my anything too deep, any advice for setting up this world with a good stance?

    Thanks!
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    First thing I'd suggest is to give up on the idea of pleasing all readers.

    You're right: some people are put off by anything too deep. So if you want to write something really deep, these people aren't your audience.

    There's obviously a huge audience for books that go as "deep" and "dark" as Game of Thrones went, so if you want a big audience you could do worse than to use it as your standard. But there are thousands of other writers thinking something similar right about now, so if your interests draw you deeper and darker, you may want to consider going there and trying to build a niche audience with less competition from other writers.

    You're essentially asking a marketing question, so I'd suggest thinking of it that way and trying to figure out how you plan to market the book in order to help you know how to write it.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2017
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  3. OnesieWrites

    OnesieWrites Member

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    Thanks!
     
  4. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    It's also not just about how dark it is but how you present it.

    Personally I didn't like GoT ass it seemed to me that the amount of sex and violence was merely there as shock value and made it tiresome for me.
    Didn't help that most characters seemed to be assholes.

    May help if you describe what you have in mind a bit more detailed, I had the same worries when I started out.
     
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  5. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    And honestly, going hard grimdark early on can let people know what to expect, which can be a good thing. Some readers might feel tricked if they went through the first twenty pages of your book in B&N and it was all sunshine and rainbows, and when they bought it and got it home the first thing they read was some horrific brutal content. By putting grimdark scenes early on, you can avoid that feeling of real life betrayal.

    Really, I'd say just do what the book needs, though. That's the important part.
     
  6. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Contributor

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    If you're not WH40K, then I would say build it.
    Build the atmosphere, build up the depressing
    and dark characters. Start out mild and then
    escalate a bit more each time. Build up to that
    big moment before easing the reader back down
    (or keep escalating if it is more than a single
    book).

    Or in the words of many: "Don't blow your load
    in the first 5 minutes." :p
     
  7. OnesieWrites

    OnesieWrites Member

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    Thanks, as for what i'm going for, its about a little girl travelling on a pilgrimage through a dark and dangerous landscape in search of a relative. The antagonist (drunken kings, evil counts, hardened killers) are not just evil people in a castle stroking a cat but are people with problems and different opinions, which will allow me to explore ideas through these characters. I hope to set up the character in the first few pages in a somewhat lighthearted setting but foreshadowing something bad, to give the readers some investment in the characters journey when they 'blow there load' then have them overcome trials and tribulations. There will be sex and violence but there will be a reason for it whether to explore values, romance or power and i also plan to add in a bit of humour as its how people in troubled times (especially war) managed to survive and can lighten up the mood whilst keeping things dark, but these are just some initial ideas and again thanks for the input so far :D
     
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  8. Mr. Raleigh D

    Mr. Raleigh D New Member

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    I think if you write it too dark, your story will get heavy and thus will make your readers overwhelmed and scared. Try to balance it out with humor and a little silliness every once in awhile. In the movie The Green Mile based on the book by Stephen King, as dark as the film and book are they have some sort of silly, light hearted scenes. Or hell in the movie 2012, despite the whole end of the world shtick, there's humor here and there (hit and miss). So try to balance it out and you won't have to worry. ;)
     
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  9. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    I honestly don't really agree with that.
    The point of grimdark is that it is...grimdark...even the humour in it is dark and not light hearted and I think that's what readers of dark/grimdark fantasy and sci-fi want...I know I do.

    Warhammer 40k is a perfect example.
    In that setting Orks are supposed to be the "comic relief", but even the humour they display is violent, dark and gritty...it's not so much a "haha that's funny"-type of humour, but more a "hah, wow, that's fucked up!"-type.

    I personally see dark and grimdark fiction as the place where you don't need humour, a romance subplot and a happy ending to make it good as we have tonnes of those stories already.

    *edit*: Come to think of it, the movie Dredd is a perfect example of this...it's an amazing movie that's massively underrated.
     
  10. Arktaurous34

    Arktaurous34 Member Supporter

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    I'm sure it is all very preference based but for whatever it's worth the dark moments in stories that leave the most significant impressions on my mind are the ones that hook the readers imagination and reel them into the shadows without relying heavily upon graphic descriptions. The mind of a reader can fabricate fantastic nightmares from just a few strategic morsels. I'll give you an example; when Legolas responds to the Balrog it was what we knew of his established courage and heritage that freaked us out when he displayed uncharacterized dismay. When a guy like Legolas craps his pants, so to speak, the author doesn't need to go into the graphic history of Balrogs to send the reader reeling into the darkness. Which moves into my second point; the more connected the reader is to the character the more influence you will have over their response to death, violence, religion, sexuality and such. The more I love a character the less it takes to grieve and unsettle me on their behalf. The more I hate a character the less I require additional details of their evil deeds to justify my disgust. It becomes less about the graphic description of images and more about making a reader care, making them hungry, and then leading their mind down a desired path with crumbs. A strange baby being flung into a den of wolves (or even a thousand babies) is not as disturbing as the devil slithering up to pluck one hair from the head of an infant I love. Remember that. Make the reader care and then even the most subtle thing can become horrific, deep, or the violent object of a nightmare. Best wishes.
     
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  11. OnesieWrites

    OnesieWrites Member

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    Wow thanks! Ill look more into developing my characters too then!
     
  12. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    Another important thing, I think, about characters in dark/grimdark fiction is that theyre never perfect...theyre flawed people.

    Also nothing is ever black and white, everything is a bunch of grey.
     
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  13. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Yeah. I agree with Saftey Turtle. Look at 40k, look at the Black Company stuff, Elric of Melnibone, Berserk; none of the characters in any of these are decent people. Oh, you said Berserk already.

    Joe Abercrombie's stuff isn't quiiite grim or dark enough to be grim or dark, but it's right on the edge, so I think he is a fantastic example of what some of the other guys here have recommended, with the insertion of moments of levity or humanity. Oh, also David Gemmell's work is like this. I think the genre is "heroic fantasy," which is kind of a misnomer if you ask me. Maybe I'm wrong about that. But the idea is that the stories touch on the real issues you discussed, and the main characters, while heroic, are still just people in the world. Yeah, they win one-on-one swordfights. Add in another opponent and things get real dicey. But these authors are examples of how to tell a gritty story without going all 40k, where even the good guys are literally the worst people imaginable.
     
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  14. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    One thing to be remember when making things dark is this: The audience must still care who wins. If everyone with any power is either a morally compromised douchebag or complete monster, then the conflict stops being meaningful, and there are no stakes. No matter who wins, the world is still going to suck, so what's the point of getting invested in it?

    Both Berserk and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant strike me as examples of how to do a dark story well. There are terrible things happening in the settings and the odds are stacked against a happy ending without major sacrifice and suffering, but there are still good and likeable characters who don't get brutally punished, people learning from their mistakes and overcoming their damage, moments of humanity and beauty, small triumphs and, generally, reminders that there are things in this world worth fighting for. Remember that consistently having everything turn out bad is just as boring as having everything turn out good.
     
  15. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    At the same time, it's equally important to ensure that the audience never feels completely safe. In this regard, Martin is the grimdarkest of them all. Because in Abercrombie and Gemmell and Moorecock and Cook you can still be pretty sure that "character x" will make it through. Usually. Whereas in Martin's tale, everyone could be killed at any time.

    Grimdark is hard to do well.
     
  16. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    The problem with GoT, for me, is that he takes it too far.
    He's killing off people left, right and center and in increasingly gruesome ways that I don't really want to get invested...also feels like he's just trying to be edgy at times.
    I mean, the whole red wedding thing just didn't have the impact I thought it would, I just had a "you're trying to hard" feeling.

    Not to mention that there are so few people who aren't completely despicable :p
     
  17. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    All very good points. But it really sets the tone. Also, I think that Grimdark is THE "try too hard" genre. It's like heavy metal; both are inherently ridiculous.

    And some of my favorite things, ever.
     
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  18. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    I'd disagree that metal is inherently ridiculous, depends heavily on the genre...I consider most hip-hop and pop to be a lot more ridiculous.

    Also not sure on the "try too hard"-genre bit.
    I get that it's supposed to be dark, but it still needs a story and some semi-light spots...GoT seems to be just misery after misery.
     
  19. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    I personally think that grown men screaming songs about being vikings or space knights or killing all the gods or being Ned Flanders or things like that probably ought not take themselves too seriously. Of course, I think that argument extends to artists generally, and to a lesser extent all people.

    And while I'm sure there are plenty of metal bands that write songs about... I dunno, break-ups? Or getting money? Or whatever, I think that generally speaking, pop and hip-hop are more relatable to the average person. Because the average person can identify easier with heartbreak or wanting to get out of the hood or wanting to get a job than they can with a lot of metal. Hell, I don't even understand a lot of metal lyrics, because I listen to it for the music.

    I will concede that ridiculous isn't the right word to use there. Sometimes I forget that I'm on a forum full of writers and that word specificity is more important here than on Facebook. But I would like to point out that metal generally and metal fans in particular very much want things to be "metal." And so they do things to be perceived as "metal." In some cases this means painting their faces and screaming a lot. In others, it means buying kittens. Because kittens are metal.

    As far as the tryhard part... I personally find the whole idea of a universe full of exceptionally powerful bad guys and totally helpless less-bad guys unbelievable. So from my perspective, simply by having some much vile shit in a work of fiction requires a whole lot of trying hard.
     
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  20. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    Seems you have a pretty generalising view of the genre, to be honest...and I can't remember the last time hip hop was about "getting out of the hood" and not talking about all the "money, cars and bitches" you have.

    But what you mentioned there isn't exactly the definition of grimdark, it may be for some but hardly all.

    And I guess that's partly the problem with grimdark (as well as dark fantasy) is that it's hard to nail down.
     
  21. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Oh, I've just been listening to a lot of Dr. Syntax, Virus Syndicate, Elzhi and prolly too much chap hop recently. I am totally a rap hipster, I don't listen to any of the mainstream stuff because it all sounds the same and most of it is not appealing to me. As far as a generalized view of metal... well, we are speaking about a genre here. We could be as granular as going down to individual bands, and of course my position would fall apart on a band-by-band analysis. Some of them are certainly not ridiculous.

    And I agree. Generes pretty much defy any kind of specific definition. They are general categories, and like any generality there is fuzziness at the borders.
     
  22. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Contributor

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    To the OP:

    Well think of it like this. No one is truly good or evil in Grim/Dark.
    At least the vast majority of the cast isn't.

    Take my MC Marckus for instance. Right now in the sequel I am
    working on he is both literally and metaphorically being forced
    to relive parts of his past. It starts with three women of his allied
    forces being flayed right in front of his eyes. This is a reenactment
    of an event where he disobeyed an order, and a trio of mercenaries
    coming up from behind his platoon carried it out. So he found the
    mercs, drug them off and flayed them alive. Left them hanging from a
    tree by their ankles, in effigy to them burning a village full of innocent
    people. And there is a lot more shit to get to.

    Also throughout there is a lot of moral and ethical challenges, for all
    3 MCs. A big one is having to do mercy killings, when there is no way
    to medically save someone. Or dropping professionalism and going
    off on a blood thirsty rampage against the enemy when they strike
    a particular nerve.

    Innocence should be in short supply, and there should be plenty
    of implications and consequences. Be they physical or psychological,
    as well as what they do, which should blur lines of being good and
    being evil. So have fun and torture the hell out of virtually your
    entire cast is some way or another, cause it adds to the Grim nature.
     
  23. Mason C.

    Mason C. New Member

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    First off, hello fellow Berserk fan.

    Secondly, I believe violence can be as intense and graphic as you please as long as its logical in the end result. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once said, when speaking about how to write short stories, to put characters through the worst you can throw at them and see how they react. I believe in this philosophy quite a bit.

    I wrote a short story last year about an alcoholic homeless man stumbles upon an illegal backyard wrestling racket run by frat guys and is exploited by the head guy. I went into cringe-inducing detail about every blow to the head and kick to the gut. But I did that because of the subject matter. Backyard wrestling is notorious for its amateurish brutality, the result of it being completely unregulated. I delved into the violence as much as I felt was necessary for the story. On the flip side, I began a story about factory workers making pills with a poisonous ingredient. I threw in overwrought details of gore and absurd violence purely to shock, when in hindsight, the setting could've gone without so much brutality.

    Controversial topics are controversial for a reason; they're inherently shocking and rarely need anymore indulging and overexposure. However, diving headfirst into these topics and exploring them from the inside out without pulling any punches is the best way to go about it. If someone is going to write a story about, for example, the Holocaust and explore the mindsets and deranged rationalization that was prevalent in its creation and execution, the writer of that story will present the necessary amount of details to explore such a topic. If your story explores numerous philosophical and cultural topics and is also hellishly violent, I say try to gauge the content and try to dial back if you feel its become to exploitative or overcooked. As long as you are able to present the reasoning or thematic importance of such graphic scenes or back-up those moments with legitimate reasons for their inclusion, I think people who want to understand will be greatly benefit from that experience, and I don't think you'll have much to worry about in terms of keeping readers. If some readers are turned off, chances are there'll be readers who are interested in grim-dark writing and will be willing to give it a shot.

    In short, if you can't explain the inclusion of the brutality, it's unnecessary. Don't know if this helps, I'm just drawing from personal experiences.
     
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  24. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    That's another way you can go--make the darkness so over the top that though the setting would be horrible to live in, it's so grand and grotesquely awesome that it's still compelling to watch from the outside. When Games Workshop don't fall into the trap of taking it too seriously, Warhammer 40K is a good example.
     
  25. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Sure, but let's not pretend that the Black Library crew don't have to try hard to go to the lengths it takes to achieve such a level of grimdarkness. Although I would also argue that Abnett and McNeill (whom I consider to be the pinnacle of 40K authors) tend to be more "gritty" than "grimdark," but as @Safety Turtle pointed out earlier, genres are very difficult things to pin down.
     

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