How Dark is Too Dark?
Recently, I was observing one of my manuscript readers as she worked her way through an especially dark scene in the Blood Curse Series. Her facial expressions varied from surprise to utter shock...to horror, and I began to wonder whether or not this particular scene was in fact too dark. Would my reader put down the book, or would she be drawn even further into the fictional world by the shocking elements? As my curiosity grew, I pondered (for the "umpteenth" time) just how dark is too dark when writing a Dark Fantasy/Vampire Series?
And this is what I came up with...
We all want to live within the boundaries of good taste—not go out of our way to offend our neighbors. Let’s face it, there’s a reason why religion and politics are considered "off limits" in casual conversation. Not only are these subjects complex, multi-layered, and emotionally-charged, but as human beings, we each interpret the world through a unique filter based upon our personal experiences. In other words, no two people see the world in the exact same way because no two people have experienced the exact same lives. Unfortunately, when one is writing a book, it's not always possible--or even preferable--to skirt the controversial, side-step the politically questionable, or ignore the existence of those things that invoke both strong attraction...and powerful revulsion. Life contains both light and shadow, good and evil. People are capable of amazing kindness and acts of charity as well as unspeakable cruelty and acts of violence. And the same esoteric questions that existed in the minds of Plato and Socrates still exist in the minds of people today.
And that means (in my humble opinion) keeping our characters real!
One can't paint hate or envy as pretty, because it's not. And one can't delve into the nuances of life or relationship without evoking controversial values or belief systems…because it does. So when I write, I try to step out of my own day-to-day persona and become the objective narrator, telling the story as I see it. If it's realistic that a character (because he or she is SO evil, SO good, SO scared, or SO confused) might feel or act a certain way, then I go with it. And I do my best to keep my own religious, political, and otherwise personal preferences out of it! Does it always work? Of course not, but I do at least try to edit myself--and my opinions--out of the scene.
Ultimately, I want my characters to live in the same richly textured world that I do--and that includes good and evil, light and dark, hope and despair, triumph and tragedy...and everything between. So, in answer to the question, "How dark is too dark?" I think I would have to say, it's not a matter of too dark or too light. It simply is what it is!