Types of Dark Lite

In the interests of Educating the Populace (which is the people I’m mad at, not you. Or any real people, really. I am sorry, fake people I am mad at!), I have prepared the following short explanation of the difference between Dark, Grim Dark, and Stupidly Grim. (This is totally a rage rant, stemming from all these horrible stories I’ve been reading.)

A dark story deals with hard stuff and awful situations, but retains a belief in human adaptability and desire to be motivated by ‘positive’ motivations (such as compassion, love, or justice). The world is an awful place. The characters are in bad spots. But the characters do their best to cope with the horrible environments they find themselves in with the brokenness they carry from their past. A character may be motivated for most of the plot entirely by survival, but this is recognized as a problem.

Characters have a wide variety of motivations and desires. People are affected by how horrible the world is, and they cope with it in a wide variety of ways, only one of which is curling up into a ball and giving up.

Example: N. K. Jemisn’s The Fifth Season, the first in her Broken Earth trilogy. (The fact that the main character expects everything to go wrong all the time and thinks all people are horrible is a plot point in the later books!)

A grim dark story is a dark story with a world where nothing (okay, very little) good can happen. Grim dark stories also have a tendency to forget that people can choose to act against their instincts or train themselves to have different instincts.

The majority of characters don’t do anything that isn’t awful. When they do things that aren’t awful, those things fail in the worst way possible, hurting as many people as possible on the way down. This may be because all non-main characters are consistently horrible people, but more often is because there is an unspoken law of the universe that prevents things from getting better. (This is called the Rule of Awful.)

The characters are unique, or at least interesting, and they are allowed to have things they take joy in and even positive motivations. They don’t adapt to the fact that they live in a world where nothing ever works and all things create evil, but other than that they come off as people as expressed by some one who thinks really poorly of people/is a pessimist.

Example: George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. (Any individual book in this series could be argued as dark instead of grim dark. It’s the unrelenting hopeless awfulness of all six books together that really moves it into the grim dark category. Note that the impact of the characters with good motivations on the world has been conquest, civil war, extra nasty civil war, many, many murders, etc, while the people who just do selfish things mostly don’t change anything.)

A stupid grim story takes the traits of a grim dark story to the extreme, and in the process usually fails to coalesce into actual story-hood. (After all, if there is no hope, then there’s no tension.) It’s just bland. It’s the dark created by lack of characters, without the flavor that comes with a distopic world that just happens to fail to be modified by actual characters.

Nothing good happens, nothing good can happen, no one is trying to do anything good anyway. Also, the writing has no flavor or grace and the characters have no interesting horribleness. Or goodness. Or color. They’re just boring. Even the characters who are horrible people aren’t really characters. They’re a bundle of negative feelings and stereotypes about what ‘bad’ people are like. They don’t love anyone, and they don’t really like anyone either. Or anything.

And, since the author doesn’t really know how to make the world a bad place, and doesn’t realize they’ve totally managed it just by failing to have their characters be real people, they also throw in as much horrible as possible to try and be dark.

It is important to note that the only thing that separates most stupid grim stories from grim dark stories is the horrible writing.

Examples: These are mostly short stories, and I rarely see them published. Some of Neil Gaiman’s short stuff definitely qualifies. Any body have any good examples?

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