Why do we like to read dark stories?

Dark urban fantasy. You see this term tossed about quite a bit. The word “dark” gets attached to other fiction as well. My debut, Deadworld, is considered a “dark urban fantasy.” So, what does it mean exactly? What is it about the term that makes it a selling point to readers? 

The term can apply to a variety of elements within a story. You can have dark characters, people who are pretty flawed, who don’t live particularly ethical/moral lives, and are just downright difficult to like in some significant way. The plot can be dark, which can mean a lot of things, but usually is a step up in graphic violence, bad things happening to good people, and/or involving content that pushes into the realm of disturbing. It can be dark in mood, such that the overall feeling is is one of gloom, where you get the feeling, sometimes literally, that it’s always night and raining, or the setting is run down, over run, in other words, the bad side of town. You can have all of these in a story, but suffice to say, it isn’t glitz, glamour, and sparkling rainbows in this story.

Some might say dark means more realisitc, because let’s face it, there’s some pretty dark shit that goes on in this world, but you can just as easily find the lighter, feel good aspects of life to write about. Urban fantasy, crime fiction, horror, science fiction, thrillers, all lend themselves well to making things dark. I think a lot of readers like to immerse themselves in it because it’s a way to vicariously experience a life too dangerous to exerience on one’s own. But let’s face it, reading in general is a way to take us to places unknown, too dangerous, and/or unaccessible to us in our normal lives. It’s fun, and when it comes down to it, that’s what the reading experience should be. Light or dark, it should always be an enjoyable experience.

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6 responses to “Why do we like to read dark stories?

  1. I think dark stories remind us of a few important things: the potential for dark inside each of us, how worse things really COULD be and that there might just be another way to cope – heck, we might even re-find our smile in the process. There’s a reason snark, cynicism and smart-mouthed MCs populate UF and it’s a big reason the genre is so popular. The juxtaposition of humor against all things dark is one of the best medicines known to man. UF is one of those genres that gives us hope by telling us an apocalypse isn’t necessarily the end of the world… 😉

  2. That is very interesting. My recently completed novel, Cold Faith, is a dark look at what happens to one man’s faith when the resurrection of the dead – zombies – becomes a ghastly reality. In it, I draw a parallel between people shuffling through life with their head down like self-absorbed zombies these days, and have labeled my genre as Christian Paranormal. So far, no one has really heard of this genre and I’m not sure that’s a good or bad thing. But I am sure that many darker Christian books play it way too safe for a guy like me, who grew up on Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Like you say, I feel my darker tone throughout makes it much more realistic.

    • Odds are Sean, that story would be labeled Urban Fantasy. If it’s contemporary and has a supernatural element, it’s pretty much UF, even if it has other strong themes in it. My guess is you’d be luckier trying to sell it as UF also. I wrote Deadworld as a paranormal thriller. It got bought as UF. It’s important to know where you stand with genres on your story, especially when it could fly in several. Go for the one with the hottest market value. Your story sounds like an interesting premise though. Good luck with it.

    • I’m assuming you’ve approached the publishers who handle Frank Peretti, Tim LaHaye etc – I think their niche is actually Christian Thriller. Merrie Destefano recently published her UF “AFTERLIFE: The Resurrection Chronicles” (excellent book BTW) and I only learned after reading she had originally tried to sell it as Christian Fiction. It’s selling very well as UF. She’s a wonderful lady and excellent writer and has given interviews/written articles about the book’s journey. You may find it helpful. Good luck. 🙂

  3. It’s like the show “Dexter”. When I first heard of it, I was like, why on Earth would I want to watch a show about a serial killer? Now that I’ve started the series, I love it. I don’t know what it is about rooting for a serial killer that’s just so darn satisfying, but I finally see the appeal in dark fiction. It really is a way to see the way the dark side of the world works without jeopardizing one’s safety. There’s a thrill in “living” in that world, even for a short time.