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Topic: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

I can deal with dark stories, but I do much better if the author gives you at least a LITTLE something now and then that you can chuckle at before you're dropped back into the depths of hell.  Unfortunately, for me anyway, almost every single fantasy writer never does that.  I can still enjoy their writing, sometimes very much, but for most of them I need to take a breather, sometimes for a week or more, before I pick up their books again and finish them (or take another break depending on how bleak they are).
 
  So, is there some kind of unwritten rule that fantasy isn't allowed to laugh at anything?

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

I happen to base my stories in fantasy, but I don't think it's the setting that inspires my darkness. It's my own jaded mentality. But I try to pepper in small jokes, puns, funny situations, and internal dialog full of self-deprecating humor. I agree, it's a good balance for all the darkness.

My best reviewer frequently sends me little bits from whatever he's currently reading, commenting about how he started laughing, or how he loves a certain line. I LOVE hearing that, it's really encouraging to learn that a line I spent an hour on made an impact, whether through laughter or tears.

In my writing, I tend towards tragedy more than anything else. You've read some of my attempt at a less gritty story. People are nice to each other in Aetilus.

My novel is much more realistic, in my opinion. I try not to shy away from the vicious cruelty that people can display towards each other, sometimes for what they feel is a good reason, but sometimes just because someone is bored. However, I toned things down a bit before publishing, and an upcoming convenient case of trauma-induced amnesia in Part II takes care of some of the worst of what I left in. Even in the aftermath of that event, I try to do something to make my characters smile, to relieve some of the tension.

In the novel, I made a point of having the main character instilled with a sense of humor. His best friend is part of the group he travels with, and if he doesn't pull a prank on her at least once a day, she'll start to worry that something's wrong. Even the war they've been fighting for years can't dampen their spirits entirely. They tell jokes, pick on each other, and never let it all get 'em down. I even have characters put into awkward situations to give them a more real personality. My main character screws up, is embarrassed, makes mistakes, and learns from them.

3 (edited by Sanedis 2018-05-08 04:30:55)

Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

I have a feeling that much of this is the natural aftermath of The Song of Ice and Fire. And, having studied literature, we know that first there's a movement, and then there'll be an anti-movement. The present movement and fad seems to be dark fantasy, but now I'm seeing a resurgence of stories that are realistic but also incorporate a really solid sense of hope.

Finally, I think that another reason we have these dark stories is because people have become darker. We're facing an unprecedented rise in depression and mental problems, and this oftentimes leaks into the art that we create. But these are just theories that I want to put out there to further the conversation.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

Sanedis wrote:

I have a feeling that much of this is the natural aftermath of The Song of Ice and Fire. And, having studied literature, we know that first there's a movement, and then there'll be an anti-movement. The present movement and fad seems to be dark fantasy, but now I'm seeing a resurgence of stories that are realistic but also incorporate a really solid sense of hope.

Finally, I think that another reason we have these dark stories is because people have become darker. We're facing an unprecedented rise in depression and mental problems, and this oftentimes leaks into the art that we create. But these are just theories that I want to put out there to further the conversation.

  I can't find any reason to disagree with you.  Things really ARE dark in the world right now. 

  I also have to agree with Jade and her character who's into pranks.  If you don't laugh now and then, you'll go crazy.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

Both I and Kathrina Csernis write fantasy with humour. Well, at least Kat does. However dark is, at least one of her characters cracks a joke. I try doing the same, but unsuccessful, perhaps

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

It was mentioned in this thread that the reader needs to be able to "take a breather" while reading a book, meaning that the book should be paced with intense and not-so-intense stuff - conflict and peaceful times. I wholeheartedly attest to this, and honestly, I'd rather nowadays read a book that gives me a chance to "take a breather" than an intense thriller. Maybe it's an age thing - I just don't have enough energy to support a constant nervous state. XD

There's also the question of "what kind of dark is it?" If it's all just forced deflowering, murder and backstabbing, well... That kind of stuff can wear you out really quickly. It's emotionally hard-hitting content that is, perhaps, a little too cheap to constantly rely on(as a writer). But that is a matter of execution and opinion. Nevertheless, I prefer emotional stakes to physical ones - the loss of a loved one, one's ideals being dashed to the ground, having to rebuild life after climbing out from the depths of despair... These kinds of things make me relate to a character more and like them for who they are - even if they show a few negative traits(but I do love proper "good" characters a lot, haha).

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

S.H.Heggholmen wrote:

Both I and Kathrina Csernis write fantasy with humour. Well, at least Kat does. However dark is, at least one of her characters cracks a joke. I try doing the same, but unsuccessful, perhaps

  Yay!  I'll take a look at both of your work.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

There's a lot of reasons, I think.

1) Having seen other shows or books get popular BECAUSE of their grittiness, writers have more courage now to do what they've always wanted to do. Make dark fantasy.

2) I think many people feel fantasy is childish unless it's gritty, because for some weird reason, people equate "dark and gritty" to "mature and real", which, personally, I find that silly.

3) Many writers write for what's "in". If writing is your career, that's the smart thing to do. So, for example, vampires were a huge thing not long ago. If you were able to churn out a vampire book (especially, a vampire SERIES) before the fad was up, then you were likely to make money off of it, or at least gain a following. Now, "fae/fairies" are getting their chance in the spotlight when it comes to fantasy romance. "Fae" are everywhere now.

4) Many writers also take "Anything that does not further the plot should be removed" to heart. Sure, there may be some funny banter...but it's not moving the plot forward.

5) Writers are uncertain if the funny bits they mean to insert would actually be funny, or if it would even fit in the moment now that everything is so dark. Will the reader criticize you for your humor, that just happens not to be to their tastes? Will they say the humor felt awkward considering the circumstances? Then where should the humor be? The balance is difficult to find.

I understand what you mean with needing a breather. I'm the same way. Actually, I cannot, and will not, devote myself to anything that is consistently dark. It simply isn't fun for me. I don't want to see someone under constant duress, nor do I want to see any characters I may come to love constantly being tortured. I don't want to be worried about their deaths all of the sudden, because I'm going to stop reading if there are no characters left to make staying worth it. I don't understand why it's so popular to criticize writers now for not making it a Free For All on characters. Holding death over the characters I love is not exciting me. It's infuriating and I will stop reading/watching, no matter how intriguing the story and world is. Dangling hope in front of me won't work if it's alongside constant death. Boring parts, funny moments, are a must. I completely welcome derailing from the plot here and there to let your characters talk and joke around.

Ultimately, I see no reason to watch a bunch of people being constant victims on screen or in books, and never gain true strength to overcome everything that's thrown at them (because they fall down at the next thing, which is seen as 'necessary' for drama), when there are enough victims in the real world who could use that time being spent on them.

This is coming from someone who's been unknowingly writing dark fantasy since they were 10. And I mean gritty, nasty, violent, horrific dark fantasy. There needs to be some joy. smile

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

Agree with all your points 100% Esha.
  Ilona Andrews books (Kate Daniels series), are very dark, but you do get to laugh once in a while (or at least chuckle).  Their "Innkeeper" series has some very dark moments, but I laugh out loud now and then with that one.  (Can you guess which series is my favorite of the two?)

Patricia Briggs "Moon Called" series is well written but the drama is unrelenting, so I have to take her work in small bites.   
Anyway, thanks for raising some points I'd not thought of.   I LOVE forums where people explain why they feel like they do.  It's great that trolls don't show up much here!

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

To be honest I don't like stories that are really dark.  Well before I started writing and coming to this site I wasn't really much of a reader actually.  I love fantasy and all types of fantasy.  The only real book I read that wasn't assigned by my schools when I was younger was The Hobbit.  That was a tough read but I pushed through it.  I find Tolkien very long winded.  Now, as for reading, the story has to be kind of funny at least to keep my interest and have a bit of a romance arc to it.  I'm not saying I don't like the dark, sad, and infuriating stories.  Those are great, I just prefer comedy.  Probably because there isn't a lot of that in my life at the moment.

I have written two books on this site both would be classified as more of a modern day fantasy/romance and a few short stories which are just romance. 
One "Meleek" was based pretty much in this world.  He is an elf, the only one of his kind living in the world of humans.  It pretty much follows his life growing up and dealing with many issues along the way.   The other "Unbreakable Premonition", is set in its own world.  In this world there is technology and magic kind of intermingled together.  Magic is the focus of the story though.  It has a lot of humor in it as well but, a bit darker humor at times. 

I try to keep my stories full of humor because that's what I like.  It was fun seeing some people's reviews on them and watching my brother n law laugh as he read them.  It just made me feel good seeing my stories did that for someone.  I know mine aren't the best and can't even be compared to most of the ones on here.  I have found some awesome fantasy writers on this site.  A few of them can get pretty dark with their writing but they also pepper in the humor which is what I like.  A couple of them were mentioned earlier in this forum, they are great writers.  Well I kind of went off on a rant here sorry.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

I really like writing satire and comedy, but it is a very hard genre to write in.  I don't think anything satirical I have written is particularly good and my one attempt at comedy ended with a botched short story that I'm not sure is any good.  A lot of fantasy stories tend to have the whole world is in jeopardy mentality and that just breeds darker story telling.  I usually try to write in a way that subverts normal tropes (I plan to have the climax in the middle of my story and develop a sort of anti-villain towards the end, but that's probably 100k words down the road xD) however it is really difficult to avoid a save the world story line because it's effective and massive, just like fantasy in general.  Anyways, I just think that fantasy is really dark right now but will probably become more comedic as time goes on.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

Maybe it is just because to many, fantasy is a dark genre. Also, it could be that it is more enjoyable/interesting for fantasy to be dark.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

Fantasy stories tend to deal with those pivotal moments in a world's history where great events are shaping around the protagonists. Moments like that lend themselves to a seriousness. A gravity. It underscores the importance of what is going on. I'd love to see a series that isn't based around world changing events. Like Serah, the half-elf, really needs to find a job and how she accidentally becomes a necromancer ("Ew Zombies?") or an Office-esque look at the Thieves Guild. ("Who keeps stealing my lunch?")

There's room for light-hearted fantasy. I think Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, and others have shown that there's room and can also be profitable.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

I suppose it all depends on the writer and what kind of atmosphere they want to portray. But I know where you are coming from.
I have been told by friends that I have quite a dry sense of humour if not a little quirky? so no matter how dark or foreboding a piece of writing I want to create, I can't help but try to inject my own brand of humour into it, usually the dialogue and banter between the cast is where I try to lighten the mood a little. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
One of my characters for instance, Malachi Stone is a dark melancholic Templar who hunts out supernatural creatures and destroys them, but his companion is a quirky little thief who I use to lighten the dark tones of the story and works well against the dark brooding knight.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

Its interesting that you say this because when I was growing up it almost felt the exact opposite. With the popular authors being Alan Dean Foster, Robert Aspirin, Piers Anthony it almost seemed like fantasy could not be serious. I even remember one of my most favorite books being Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings.
I wonder if it goes in waves. Maybe it's time for a new era of fun-fantasy.
Should we hold a contest?

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

This trend doesn't just apply exclusively to the books in the west. Even popular Japanese fantasy light novel right now tends to be darker and grittier like Overlord , Goblin Slayer and Rezero. Even the lighthearted light novel like konosuba have some darker elements in the story. I think these sort of dark fantasy are popular is more due to it being different and a new experience for a lot of people whenever they read it since most people tends to read more lighthearted and fun books when they were little and quickly grown bored of it once they reach adulthood, face reality and then think how shallow all the books they read were. They soon gravitates towards these darker light novel since it's a fresh experience and match more to their current more realistic perception of the world.

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Re: Why is most fantasy unrelentingly dark?

There's always Terry Pratchett if you want something light. He's considered a deep fantasy writer yet he satirized everything.