The Dark Side of Fiction

I’m part of the blog hop for my incredible author friend Nadine Brandes, whose new book, A Time to Speak, comes out this Friday!

The topic of the blog hop is speaking out on an issue we feel stronglCalled 2 Speaky about. I wanted to tie my Called 2 Speak post back to fiction, and that led me to the subject of what I’m going to call dark fiction.

In other words, stories that are willing to examine the arc of a character who’s, say, a prostitute. Stories that don’t send every swear word to the guillotine because perish the thought we read one of those.

Stories that don’t demand the use of demure princesses in modest dresses and charming heroes whose reputation is so flawless that personal struggles of the darkest variety stick to them as well as duct tape sticks to water.

The Dark Side of Fiction

Beyond the sunny meadows of chivalry and virtue lurks a dark forest. A forest tangled with the thorns of evil, shrouded in shadow and creeping with dangerous, unsavory things.

Such is the ill repute of this forest that people avoid it like they avoid the stench of the trash heap. Why would we venture into this place when we could easily take the sunlit path of happy times through a safe land where characters impart just the right words at just the right time and we needn’t bother with the scumbags because they don’t belong to our moral-filled club?

I’d like to challenge that notion and suggest we can, and should, be willing to read stories that don’t fit the prescribed model of clean fiction. Not because we enjoy the guilty pleasure or want to vicariously participate in the immorality, but because it presents truth.

More importantly, the presence of the darkness points us to the light and the hope we find outside our miserable, messed up lives.

We Need the Darkness

Please don’t mistake me. I’m not advocating stories that glorify violence, sex, swearing, or anything else typically associated with immoral elements we need to lock away behind the bars of caution and discernment.

However, I am suggesting that we shouldn’t automatically bring out the AK-47s when we smell the odor that even hints at such questionable content. Why do we so readily reject the realities of our broken world when they slip into the pages of fiction?

The Lie of Clean Fiction

My biggest problem with so-called clean fiction is the subtle mistruth it presents by offering us artificial stories.

  • Prayers are answered the way the characters expect
  • People repent too easily
  • The swaggering gangster uses pseudo swear phrases that don’t fit his character because anything more colorful is too offensive

In the end, though, when the darkness of our corrupt world forces its way into our lives, we realize all the perfect families, role-model characters, and moralistic messages have no answer for the reality of life. Life isn’t filled with squeaky-clean relationships. It doesn’t fit into our box of piety and propriety.

It punches us in the teeth. It knocks us down and tramples us in the mud.

One prime example is warfare, common in science fiction and fantasy. It’s a brutal, ugly mess, not a heroic clash of good versus evil where the knights in shining armor always dispose of their enemies while suffering nary a scratch.

Violence is part of life, and a story that includes fighting shouldn’t shy away from the reality of battle. There is a limit to the amount of gore and detail needed, but glossing over a battle with passing remarks that don’t do it justice can be detrimental, too. It paints an idealized picture in our heads and suddenly, without realizing it, we have a misconception of war that at best gives us a vague idea of what it’s like to be in battle and at worst trivializes its horrors.

The Purpose of Dark Fiction

What’s the point in all this? Why do topics that make us uncomfortable have a role in the stories we read?

Let me ask this. What is the comfort of sunshine without the gloom of shadow? What is the joy of love apart from the sting of betrayal? What is the beauty of redemption if it’s detached from the corruption of a fallen world?

The powerful stories, the ones that haunt you long after the final page has been turned and give you the chills—those stories endure because they say something about how the world works. By exploring the dark caverns of broken lives, violent deeds, and scandalous endeavors, they can emerge into the grace-filled air with more vigor than a story that skims over the disagreeable parts.

We don’t appreciate our health until we’re struck by sickness. In the same way, we can’t value the threads of loyalty, love, sacrifice, mercy, and grace woven into stories without first seeing and understanding their shadowy opposites. Not in excessive ways, but by dealing honestly with them.

Every story should reflect the real world, not in exactly the same way we experience it, but so that when we read about a character’s problems or see the situation they’ve been dragged into, we glimpse a reflection of truth.

And ultimately, the dark side of fiction serves to point us toward the relief, hope, and joy found in the shining truths of mercy and redemption.

I only just realized it, but A Time to Speak tackles this and is willing to pass through the shadows in order to enter the light.

A Time to Speak

A Time to Speak cover

What happens when you live longer than you wanted to?

Parvin Blackwater wanted to die, but now she’s being called to be a leader. The only problem is, no one wants to follow.

The Council uses Jude’s Clock-matching invention to force “new-and-improved” Clocks on the public. Those who can’t afford one are packed into boxcars like cattle and used for the Council’s purposes.

Parvin and Hawke find themselves on a cargo ship of Radicals headed out to sea. What will the Council do to them? And why are people suddenly dying before their Clocks have zeroed-out.

Book two in the Out of Time Series.

Read about the first book, A Time to Die, here.

Connect with Nadine on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google Plus.

Be sure to enter the giveaway to win free, autographed copies of A Time to Die and A Time to Speak.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
As if a giveaway isn’t enough, there’s going to be a Facebook party. *insert cheering* If you’ve never been to a Facebook party before, it’s a blast and you should come because it’s going to be awesome. Finally, check out the other posts in the blog hop. 9.28.15 – Gretchen Engel 9.30.15 – Nadine Brandes 10.01.15 – Jason Joyner 10.05.15 – Gretchen Engel (part 2)  10.06.15 – Tricia Mingerink 10.08.15 – Gretchen Engel (Scriblerians) 10.09.15 – Emilie Hendryx 10.11.15 – Janeen Ippolito 10.12.15 – Zachary D Totah 10.14.15 – Brittany Valentine 10.15.15 – Andrew Swearingen 10.17.15 – Megan Besing 10.19.15 – Angel Roman 10.20.15 – Charles Franklin 10.21.15 – Lisa Godfrees 10.23.15 – Shantelle Hannu 10.27.15 – Natalie Walters 10.29.15 – The Artist Librarian 11.02.15 – Rosalie Valentine 11.17.15 – Amanda Fender


The Dark Side of Fiction — 15 Comments

  1. I was riveted to this post, because my own stories tend to go a bit darker than I intend, and sometimes I question whether I should keep them that way, or try to make them “lighter”. It’s just… I want the situations to appear as real as possible. And don’t we all want the books we read to echo reality? No matter how much sic-fi or fantasy is involved, we still want to relate to our characters in a deep way. Thanks so much for posting!

    • That’s awesome, Sara. So glad my post was relevant, and great thoughts. My main problem with “Christian” fiction is it’s tendency to skirt around certain things, which makes the story or situation seem cheap or contrived, instead of letting the story unfold to potentially edgy places and retaining that grain of truth.

      And yes, relating to the characters is huge, especially in sci-fi and fantasy because they’re our link to reality in a sense, something understand and can relate to in the wild worlds spec-fic often plops us down in.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  2. I agree 100%, Zachary! Actually, my “Speak Out” topic shaping up to be kind of along the same vein yours is …

    There always will be “clean” fiction in Christian fiction, but as you said, there are justifiable reasons to “go darker.” I think one of the good ways CF is expanding is that besides genres, there is beginning to be a range of choices within the genres: e.g. fantasy appropriate for younger readers and more grittier, intense novels for an older audience. =)

    • I look forward to reading your post, Jen.

      Yes, that’s something I didn’t even touch on. Just because some people can’t handle certain “dark” elements or are too young, it doesn’t apply to everyone. I, too, am glad to see the variety of options beginning to surface. Hopefully we can continue and add to the trend!

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  3. I’ve been struggling through what I believe about this topic. I firmly agree with what you have said, but it’s the details I’m still sorting out…

    Like how we should treat children’s vs. YA vs. adult fiction. How to approach stories that don’t offer explicit redemption (perhaps because the author doesn’t know true redemption). Where to draw the line between glorifying evil and exposing evil…

    • Yeah, the devil’s in the details, right? I think there’s a difference between kids and YA vs. adult fiction. Some things are better left for a mature audience, but at the same time, it’s not the best idea to paint the world solely in glowing terms for younger people, because one day they’re going to grow up and find out that’s not how things work.

      Yes, the darker the story, the more need for redemptive themes, which is one reason why Mockingjay fell flat for me. Given everything Katniss had been through, the ending wasn’t what I wanted. It didn’t offer hope.

      Showing evil in stories without crossing the line…yep, tough to do well.

      Thanks for stopping by, Jordan.

  4. Great post, I too have been struck by the unrealistic nature of so called “clean fiction.” But have you considered that for some people isn’t that the point. The world is not perfect. So if a reader sees their own life falling to pieces, wouldn’t they desire to escape into a better world?

    • Thanks, Cathrine, glad you enjoyed it. Great thoughts, too. I hadn’t considered that perspective but it makes total sense. The worse life gets, the more someone would want to escape to the happy lands of fiction. Excellent point.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Amen! Another cool reason that “dark fiction” is so valuable is that it doesn’t keep the darkness in the darkness. It shines the light on it. The more the reality of the darkness in our souls is exposed to light, the stronger redemption and hope become! The light casts out the darkness. But if we hush it up and won’t even take a second glance at the shady things of this world, freedom will never come. Love this post! Love the uniqueness of the topic too. 🙂

    • Thanks, Karisa. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Good thoughts on the topic. Some stories do remain in the darkness without presenting hope, but those aren’t nearly as powerful as the ones that drag us through the shadows to then expose the glory and freedom of the light.

  6. Very good post.
    One example of this that I saw was an episode of Star Wars Rebels. The series is intended for kids, but some episodes handle the darkness very well. In this episode, a main character got captured in the process of holding off the enemy long enough for his friends to escape. In most shows that are geared at kids, this wouldn’t be a major thing because things are too tame for anyone to get hurt.
    Earlier in this episode, one of the villains had beheaded two henchmen who didn’t do their jobs, so when the character sacrificed himself, the audience knew things were serious. His sacrifice meant something, because in this world, he’d suffer. If the show hadn’t shown darkness, his capture wouldn’t have been much of a sacrifice.

    • Thank you, Jessi. I appreciate that. 🙂

      I’m not familiar with Star Wars Rebels, but the point you made is spot on. Like you said, sacrifice means nothing if you don’t see the consequences of that sacrifice, which unintentionally lessens its potency and message.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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