Do Readers Like Dark?

And can writers write light when they’re in darkness?

Okay, let me stop writing in riddles and try to make some sense here.

Let me tackle the first question, which is the title of this blog. What I’m asking is, do readers like to read stories that are emotionally or psychologically heavy? I’m not talking about the sorrow of a broken heart. I mean, just about every romance has that element. I’m talking about uncomfortable emotional distress that comes from topics like abuse, domestic violence, depression and other mental illnesses, etc.demons

There are so many demons that lurk in the dark recesses of the mind, and not everyone is comfortable reading about them. But are there enough people who do? Is it worth a writer’s time and effort to write a story that’s dark? From all the horror movies out there, the answer would seem to be a resounding “yes.” However, based on the books that sell—in lesfic, anyway—the answer might be “no.”

That brings me to the second question. If a writer is in a dark place, for whatever reasons, can she write light? Can someone who is so deeply depressed, so weighed down with the concerns of her life, write a fluffy romance, or light-hearted romp through a general story line? Writers have a reputation for being a moody lot in the first place. So many iconic writers struggled with the demons in their minds and they churned out some pretty hefty material: Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Anne Rice, Tennessee Williams…the list goes on.

On the other hand, look at J.K. Rowling. She struggled with clinical depression but managed to turn her demons into…well, demons. Or other such magical being. While the Harry Potter series is not necessary lighthearted, its presentation and messages are decidedly different than stories in which the characters go mad and do unjustified harm to themselves or others, or simply limp away wounded, never to be healed.steps

I’m sure if I asked a bunch of writers this question, I would get different answers.  I guess it all depends on how people handle their darkness. Maybe writing something light distracts one writer, giving her mind a break from the things that are plaguing her, while another writer probably can’t even think about light things, let alone write about them.

I don’t know, maybe you have to sit a while with your feet hanging over the precipice before you stand, dust yourself off, and turn back toward solid ground.

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16 comments

  1. I get enough ‘dark’ … “abuse, domestic violence, depression and other mental illnesses, etc.” just keeping up with the news of the national decline.

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  2. It’s an interesting question. I find my mood, thoughts and personal demons do sneak into my writing, both fanfic and original. I’m not sure the demons are ever purged, but I do find their insistence to be less of an irritant after writing them down. As a reader, I find the books that resonate the most with me are ones that have a balance of light and dark. They are more relatable in their complexity I think. However, I have found that as I age and the world goes to hell in a handbasket around us, I need lighter fare to read before sleep.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

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  3. I usually read lighter books, but I don’t mind darker topics sometimes. The subject matter has to be compelling enough, somehow, and I have to like the characters, etc. And I don’t do well with unhappy endings. Obviously, there are some topics that are just too dark, and I don’t know what those are until I try. For me, knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel is what makes a darker book worth it. So if you’re going to write something dark, let the reader know if it’s going to stay that way, or if it’s a journey through the darkness to something lighter.

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  4. As a reader, I enjoy dark when I’m feeling strong, or at least strong enough. So not really for the past 4 years 😉 But I keep adding darker books to my to-read list, because yes, we need them at times, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get back to them at some point.

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  5. When I read a book or story I do not want to have my thinking kidnapped into depressing thinking. I have not found many authors who can write a dark tale without taking captives. It can be done and that can make for a meaningful adventure. I do not do dark.

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  6. As usual with these kinds of questions, it depends … on the purpose of writing ‘dark’. Is it within the context of the story being told or there for gratuitous shock value only?

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  7. You hit it on the head with the Harry Potter example. Rowling used her darkness to create magic and we keep being enchanted by Potter. When I read any genre, lesbian or other, I know when the author tried too hard to feed me fluff and I get bored to death by reading the same story. Reading fluff is like eating mcdonalds every day. It dumbs us down, depletes our bodies and souls. Give me dark stories, please!

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