Wednesday 5 February 2014

Dark, Darker, Darkest!

Or perhaps dark, darker, 'grimdark' as some would have it.

I was ... surprised by this comment on reddit the other day (referring to a book called 'The Darkness That Comes Before' that I've read and enjoyed):

Its darker than absolutely anything being written today <snip> After you read it, grimdark writers like Abercrombie and Lawrence will look like children in ghost costumes shouting "boo!"

Which I added to my observation of quite a few quotes over the years that my books are trying very hard to be dark, trying too hard to be darker, failing laughably to be darkest.

I boggle somewhat for several reasons

Firstly I've never felt my work to be particularly dark and it seems that the bulk of my readership agree with me.

Secondly there's the implication that I tried to be as dark as possible and Prince of Thorns was the result. Which is laughable. I could write something infinitely more dark with no effort. I didn't want to ... so I didn't. If I had then I doubt anyone would have published it, but since I was writing without any thought for publication I had complete liberty to do so. It just wasn't interesting to me to write that.

Thirdly, many of these comment carry the implication that this 'darkness' is some calculated and commercial tactic that authors enter into after close study of current trends to milk the public...

... here I can only speak for myself since I have observed that my writing process is very very different to many other authors. I would be very surprised to find that other writers were doing what has been suggested - but I've been very surprised before. What I can say is that I'd never heard of Abercrombie, Bakker, Morgan or any of the other writers lumped (or sometimes not lumped) into this supposed race to the bottom. I had read George Martin's first ASOIAF book by the time I started Prince of Thorns. I didn't expect to get published, I had no plans to try and be published, I had no appreciation of current trends, and if I did it would not have interested me. I wrote what I wanted to, for my own reasons. My inspiration was a book around 40 years old at the time.

It seems to me that there is a radical misconception among many commentators on the genre about how books are written, about the thought processes authors go through, and about the content of at least some of the books they choose to vilify as 'grimdark'.

There have been some heated debates across the blogosphere of late about genre and gender, followed by less heated debates about having less heated debates. These latter have focused on the tendency to assume the worst of the other party, and have repeatedly reiterated the idea that someone else calling for more of the thing they like is not the same as calling for less of what you like (the phrase 'zero sum game' has been drafted in from the literature of game theory). I'm far from sure that's actually true, publishing schedules, shelf-space and readership not being subject to arbitrarily rapid expansion - but that's another debate. What I am fairly sure of is that much of the detraction aimed at 'grimdark' (whatever it is exactly ... other than 'the thing I don't like'), often by people who don't seem to have read what they're complaining about but just 'have this feeling' ... what I'm fairly sure of is that this criticism really does seem to have the flavor "we want less of this thing - it's bad - it's wrong - we don't approve".

But perhaps I'm reading it wrong  :)

In any event. I really don't think there's a race to go dark. You only have to look at the horror genre to see how dark things can get. And even there I generally get a sense of restraint, because whilst there may be a small market for torture porn I'm guessing that the people with the imaginations to really bring that stuff to life just don't fancy going there. They'd rather write something with more levels, more interest, and that exercised a spectrum of emotions. Rather than darkness as a goal in my writing I've always sought to move and exhilarate my reader - to make them passionate - to make them have to turn the page, not dread it.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly don't write according to some carefully calculated trend spotting plan to either shift/capture the mass market - and I have the sales figures to prove it.

    The gestation period of stories is very long, much like that of stars, and in both cases nature draws a decent veil of opaqueness and mystery around the whole birth process. (Indeed some novels never surface from that opaqueness even after birth becoming the literary equivalent of brown dwarf stars - but perhaps I push my analogy too far).

    It does make you wonder though. If our own experience exposes as fallacy the assumptions by some modern readers assumption of interconnections and influences between contemporary works, what reliability can we place in literary interpretations of classic works!