by Sam Poling
Dark fantasy has a variety of definitions, many for brilliant authors each with the authority to define it. However, as often as their definitions overlapped they conflicted, leaving the rest of the world without a firm definition.
And that’s just the way dark fantasy likes it.
For this reason, I often keep the definition vague and brief. Dark fantasy is fantasy, only dark. Dark is merely a descriptor of any fantasy with a morbid or bleak tone, damaged or evil protagonists, aberrant horrors straight for the horror genre, et cetera.
To write dark fantasy means to keep everything ugly. The good guys and the bad guys, the bleakness of the world, and the hopelessness of the events. You cannot be afraid to drag your characters, and your audience, through the muck of sorrow and pain. Build the despair until it spirals out of control, until there is no fathomable way anything good can come of events. Then, perhaps, prove otherwise in a bitter sweet outbreak of justice. Or drown everything in poetic defeat. Your choice.
Creating a good dark fantasy novel means building your deeply imperfect cast of characters and setting the stage with their hell. I often think of the 90s PC game: Diablo, where the characters are sinking in a hell increasingly literal. All this can be hard on the soul of both the reader and the writer alike. After all, who wants to see the characters they love struggle so desperately? Answer: I do.
It begs the question: are we, as writers, essentially the gods of the world in our novels? And if so, what sort of gods are we? We intentionally throw obstacles in our paths of our characters and watch them struggle and suffer for our enjoyment, in every genre! This isn’t clearer than in horror and dark fantasy, where that is the tone and theme of the hour. The problem of evil comes up. Is that why our universe, in real life, is often so cruel? Are we all but items of someone else’s enjoyment? Are we, per chance, in someone’s novel? How dark of a story do they intend it to be?
But I don’t think of practically torturing our characters as sadism. Actually, I believe having a taste for a character’s struggle is quite the opposite. Writers and readers alike adore it because we struggle in our own lives, and we love to see how far others go to survive as well. We get to feed off of their successes and learn from their missteps. It isn’t malevolent; it’s a projection of hope, and the poetry of the human condition. This is what it means to write dark fantasy: to seek the light of hope at the end of the tunnel and to keep fighting for it no matter how dim it becomes. Paradise, in comparison, is meaningless.
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Sam's Newest Release: The Part that Doesn't Burn
That is, until she falls in love with the very alchemist she has been deceiving.
Now, with soul-hungry geists flooding the city, the church scrambling for their prey, and her own mind at war with itself, Mirabel must decide what she's fighting for before she loses everything to the evils of Autumnfall.
Available Here: Amazon | Tirgearr Publishing