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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm going be on a panel at Thrillerfest this summer about how dark is too dark? Curious as to everyone's take on this. I sort of knocked off a dog in one of my romances and a book I'm rewriting the heroine murders the bad guy in the final scene. He's a bad guy, but the scene is pretty gruesome and makes her sort of a bad guy.

What is too dark?
 

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Too dark for what, specifically? There's some great fiction that is...honestly, I don't like remembering the moments when I've gotten to "those scenes", but the people who wrote them won some pretty awesome prizes. Blindness, The Bluest Eye, etc., etc....
 

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I'm sensitive to anything involving children.  (Personal history there)

Other than that, bring it on! :)

-jb 8)
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
For specific genres. I know there is a market for just about everything. Look at the SAW movies. Pretty dark and twisted. Or the movie Bug with Ashley Judd. I love that movie. Or Mr. Brooks with Kevin Costner.

I'm really looking for what people's thresholds are. I know I'm not normal when it comes to this.
 

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For me the general rule is that it serves the story and / or is integral to the piece as a work of art. If it's just there to be like, look how shocking I can be! Look! Ready? I'm gonna shock you again! Haha you're so shocked! Then I find it exploitive and it's a big turn off. Kind of a deal breaker, actually, and at that point it earns the "porn" moniker, e.g., "torture porn." if you're not saying anything real with it, then the only purpose is to shock, titillate, whatever - porn.

And like the judge said....you know it when you see it.
 

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Good question I often wonder about.  In my Urban Fantasy, I really love to kill off bad guys in "creative" ways.  In my unpublished "Black Heart" the heroine kills twin vampires by:

1) Biting the head off one when the vamp is in bat form
2) Impaling the other twin upon an antenna, high atop a skyscraper, just before dawn.  She taunts the vamp with, "Vampire on a stick."

Is that dark?  Too dark?

Is that "torture porn" as described above?  I don't know, but it is graphic.
 

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I can handle some pretty dark stuff.

In one of my favorite books, one of the MC's castrates one of the bad guys. I can't specifically remember if she did it herself or if she made him do it. She's the Mother Confessor, so it could be either one.  :D

And yes, I am referring to Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind.
 

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I was discussing this with someone the other day.  I say it's too dark when we know the character is not going to get out of it, that it's just going to keep happening for the sake of it.  The Hostel movies come to mind.  The Human Centipede, maybe?  (Haven't seen it.)

In other words, when it's evil in a vacuum.
 

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1.  Killing children is too dark.  It's actually illegal in video games in many countries from what I understand.
2.  If you are going to write something dark, it shouldn't be for sensationalism.  Dark things should have a vital reason to the plot.

It's all open to interpretation really.  What's dark for one person is no problem for another.  When you publish, realize that it's going to offend someone even if you go all Disney on it.  ;) 
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I do have a book where the bad guy has killed children.

TWGallier said:
1) Biting the head off one when the vamp is in bat form
2) Impaling the other twin upon an antenna, high atop a skyscraper, just before dawn. She taunts the vamp with, "Vampire on a stick."

Is that dark? Too dark?
I actually want to read whatever book number one is in. That is seriously twisted. The vamp on stick sounds like its trying to be funny when it's not. But still, I'm interested. They don't call me the Queen of Darkness for nothing.
 

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JenniHolbrook-Talty said:
I'm going be on a panel at Thrillerfest this summer about how dark is too dark? Curious as to everyone's take on this. I sort of knocked off a dog in one of my romances and a book I'm rewriting the heroine murders the bad guy in the final scene. He's a bad guy, but the scene is pretty gruesome and makes her sort of a bad guy.

What is too dark?
Since it's for adults and not kids I think you have good latitude, afterall some great reads were rather dark like: Frankenstein, Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Lord of The Flies, The Metamorphasis, The Road, Animal Farm, In Cold Blood, Silence of The Lambs, and many more. Is your scene more gruesome than some of these? If it belongs in your story I'm sure you will find a way to work it in. I have read some grisly scenes in books and usually the darkest is what the author didn't mention--he let you guess. Like Hitchcock in his movies.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
jackz4000 said:
Since it's for adults and not kids I think you have good latitude, afterall some great reads were rather dark like: Frankenstein, Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Lord of The Flies, The Metamorphasis, The Road, Animal Farm, In Cold Blood, Silence of The Lambs, and many more. Is your scene more gruesome than some of these? If it belongs in your story I'm sure you will find a way to work it in. I have read some grisly scenes in books and usually the darkest is what the author didn't mention--he let you guess. Like Hitchcock in his movies.
Love Hitchcock! The Birds is one of my favorite movies.

I saw clockwork Orange when I was way too young to understand it. Like 11 maybe. I had to re watch it as an adult because it totally freaked me out.

Anything that is done in a gratuitous way shouldn't be there, but it is often too hard for the author to realize since we are so close to our own work.
 

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I struggle with this a lot too because I write for young adult, but I also write fairly dark material. In the end, it really depends on your target audience and what your intent is. Is there ever a line that crosses too dark? Perhaps, but then maybe your story isn't what you originally thought it was.

In your example, you say that you "knocked off a dog" in one of your romances. Well, how did it happen? Did the dog die because it was hit by a car in the tragic heroine's lowest point of the story? Or did the abusive lover kill the dog to set an example for the heroine? There's a huge difference between the two. The first one can still be in the realm of romance and is sad but not too dark, while the second one... well, I don't think that can be considered romance any more because it seems too dark and more like a thriller or something. Does that make sense?

There was a scene in my own book where the protagonist originally was going to do something that I later realised was very twisted for a teenage girl to agree to. I liked the idea and thought it was totally messed up, but it was just too dark for the young adult feel I was going for. The idea ended up working to my advantage since I could have her find a different way while shunning the disturbing way. Doing so fit the character and theme much better. If I had been writing an adult book, maybe I could have gotten away with it, but for the crowd I am writing for, it was better to have it dark but maybe less morally ambiguous.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
NRWick said:
I struggle with this a lot too because I write for young adult, but I also write fairly dark material. In the end, it really depends on your target audience and what your intent is. Is there ever a line that crosses too dark? Perhaps, but then maybe your story isn't what you originally thought it was.

In your example, you say that you "knocked off a dog" in one of your romances. Well, how did it happen? Did the dog die because it was hit by a car in the tragic heroine's lowest point of the story? Or did the abusive lover kill the dog to set an example for the heroine? There's a huge difference between the two. The first one can still be in the realm of romance and is sad but not too dark, while the second one... well, I don't think that can be considered romance any more because it seems too dark and more like a thriller or something. Does that make sense?

There was a scene in my own book where the protagonist originally was going to do something that I later realised was very twisted for a teenage girl to agree to. I liked the idea and thought it was totally messed up, but it was just too dark for the young adult feel I was going for. The idea ended up working to my advantage since I could have her find a different way while shunning the disturbing way. Doing so fit the character and theme much better. If I had been writing an adult book, maybe I could have gotten away with it, but for the crowd I am writing for, it was better to have it dark but maybe less morally ambiguous.
In the "knocked off a dog", it happens off stage. The bad guy killed a couple different animals. Little Jimmy's dog "disappeared" so it's more implied than anything else. It was published, and interestingly enough, only a couple of hate mail on it.

The later isn't a romance at all.

I'm really looking for thresholds for people. As a reader in your favorite Genre, what is too dark? When has an author gone too far and why?
 

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Oh, sorry.  When has an author gone too far in my opinion/taste?

The only time I can recall thinking something shouldn't be there, was too "dark" was in a very popular novel where the bad guys raped and tortured two children.  It disturbed me, and I thought the author had already established they were horribly evil, and didn't need to go there.

 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
TWGallier said:
Oh, sorry. When has an author gone too far in my opinion/taste?

The only time I can recall thinking something shouldn't be there, was too "dark" was in a very popular novel where the bad guys raped and tortured two children. It disturbed me, and I thought the author had already established they were horribly evil, and didn't need to go there.
Clockwork Orange still disturbs me. I think because I watched when I was so young. Same with Jaws and Towering Inferno. And my children wonder why I put parental controls on HBO etc.

I'm actually loving all the discussions about this subject. I have had a hard time and haven't been writing but am itching to get back to it and the dark stuff is just calling to me.
 

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JenniHolbrook-Talty said:
Love Hitchcock! The Birds is one of my favorite movies.

I saw clockwork Orange when I was way too young to understand it. Like 11 maybe. I had to re watch it as an adult because it totally freaked me out.

Anything that is done in a gratuitous way shouldn't be there, but it is often too hard for the author to realize since we are so close to our own work.
Burgess was a great writer. So much great literature was very dark. The book was dark, but Kubrick's movie version was dark and provoking for it's time. Today I find Cormac McCarthy to write the bleakest and darkest books out there.

Yes, as soon as it's gratitous people inately know it. It is pushed on you and usually poorly done. I usually read literary works but for entertainment I usually go for

thrillers/supsense/adventure combinations.

When kids are involved and it gets too dark I get very uncomfortable and it turns me right off. If I had a case of that with kids I had to put in a book I would go with a, "less is more" treatment action and work it in differently...like Hitchcock...or Speilberg.

Jaws? Benchley's book was great, but Speilberg captured the tension beautifully. If you look closely nothing really grisley is really shown on the screen of a shark ripping people apart. Merely the suggestion and the viewer fills in the blanks. He builds the tension and then--he cuts--leaving it to your imagination. Just look at the opening scene with the young girl going for a night swim. Speilberg learned his Hitchcock lessons well. A lesser filmaker or author would get gratitous and bring on the gore.
 

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southerntype said:
In other words, when it's evil in a vacuum.
I think this states it best for me as well.

I think it was the second Alien film that I had to turn off, I couldn't finish watching because it seemed so hopeless.

Also the film Clockwork Orange.

I don't think I have ever experienced anything similar with a book. I don't know if fiction can get too much darker than Jude the Obscure.
 
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