I Can’t See in the Dark

in Entertaining nonsense and profound thought

I really can’t see well in the dark, but that’s not what this post is about. I’m also afraid of the dark sometimes, but it’s not about that either.

This is about the popularity of dark stories.Which is fine after a fashion. They are not my cup of tea, but there are stories out there for everyone. If I know a story is dark I am far less likely to pick it up. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll even crack the spine.

And that’s fine, really it is. I don’t mind that there are dark stories.

You know what I mean, right? The Game of Thrones is one. All my favorite characters either have died or will. I knew the minute Ned Stark had his head chopped off that this was not going to be a story for me and I distance myself from the characters. I watch, rather than read because it’s a family activity, but I’ve removed myself from the story. It’s about brutal murder and rape and betrayal and I know that the characters who I think deserve a happy ending will likely end up dead. I do the same with books, only I don’t just distance myself from the story, I also put the book down and stop reading.

I’m about funny, light-hearted stories with happy endings. Good will out and all that. I don’t mind if they are dark in the middle so much as long as everything ends alright. Except there are things I avoid: Rape, torture, betrayal and brutal violence. I do not want to read about rape or someone’s skin being flayed from their body. Sorry, but there it is.

And all that is  perfectly all right. To each his own.

What upsets me is what I think of as false advertising. When a series starts out fairly light. Yes, there is some danger, bad things happen. There may be violence and death. But no one is raped. Our protagonist may be battered, but not beaten within an inch of his or her life. Light and humorous is what I like. So when a series starts going black in the fourth or fifth book I take exception. And I stop reading.

If you are  going to be dark, fine be dark. But if you promise me light and funny and maybe a little irreverent, please don’t start raping, mutilating and otherwise horrifying me by stabbing your protagonist a hundred times after I’m already hooked on your series. It upsets me. And I don’t get to finish the series, and that upsets me too.

Truthfully, I think this happens because dark sells better these days. The publishers and agents I have met recently all want dark, dark, dark. So I imagine that if they can get an author to skew their story toward the dark side they will. Or maybe there’s a plan by the author for things to get darker and darker. I don’t know. What I do know is I don’t trust an author who promises me one thing and gives me another.

I did that too, you know. I was advised to go dark, to make readers cry. I did it and I regretted it and I rewrote it. Because my readers told me they were unhappy with me. And I was unhappy with me too. It may have set my writing career back years. Not because my readers stopped trusting me, but because I did. I lost who I was as a writer.

I write to entertain, not to make people cry. To take readers away from the pain in their lives, not to increase it. I may never be a best seller because of that, but I fill a need. Even if it’s only for myself.



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Catherine Gessner November 29, 2015 at 2:34 am

Thank you for this post. I too have an aversion to dark and violent books. Gratuitous violence has no place in my preferred reading. I don’t want to read books that are all “sweetness and light”, for they seldom tell a riveting story. But dark books take away the joy and pleasure I find in a well crafted, balanced tale. Thank you again.


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