It may be as simple as a plot centred around a villainous character in the story, or it might just be the setting, an eerie place, or an unexpected twist of events. Whatever it is it will invariably take us away from of our comfort zone.
I got to thinking, why is it that people will tolerate all manner of things that happen between the pages of a book but not when it appears on your screen at home, or at the cinema? And I am no exception to this:
I will read the preview at least of virtually anything - any genre written in any style, but I wouldn't necessarily be comfortable watching the same thing on my TV at home. Why? Because when I read I'm choosing where to start, what world I want to be taken into, and how I interpret it is between myself and the author. There is that element of privacy
A really good writer will paint a picture so vivid that I am swallowed up and sucked into the world on the page. Other times I find I am needing to use my imagination to take me just as far as I want to go . . . I can always close the book and have a break if I'm not sure. Then, if it is a real page-turner I can go back to it later. TV and films don't quite work this way for me.
So, here are a few things I came up with that I believe we all sub-consciously consider when we are making decisions about the things we want to hear, see, or experience through reading.
This is something that should be important to any writer, of screen plays, films, or books. 'Does this do what it says on the can?' That is the question that should be asked.
If it is a sci-fi set three centuries in the future then the realism needs to be simply an acceptable level of believability. Characters need to stay real but virtually everything else can change to whatever the creator of the work fancies because there are no facts of certainty about how the world will be that far into the future. You only have to look at the strongest and longest running sci-fi series' to see that one good reason they have survived so long is because of the characters and how they react to the perilous situations they are confronted with.
If the story is set between the wars in the middle of the twentieth century in England then the realism of a period setting, factual relevance and realistic characters akin to the time become of paramount importance. If it is a romantic story then the relationships have to be authentic. Fail on any of these and you are on to a loser.
Where will it take me?
Will I be exhilerated after this experience? Will I know more than I did before? Will I be taken to the brink and then hauled back to normality?
We all want to know . . . but we don't want to know exactly, that would spoil the surprise!
Being in the shoes of the Protagonist
As a reader, that is important. We don't want to be told about what is happening in the story, we want it to feel as if it were happening to us, or at least as if we were part of it. We need to feel for the main character even if he/she/it is evil, stupid or foolish.
What is a dark story?
For me it is something very much of the unknown but not the unbelievable. More of the 'it could happen to you' than the 'that will never happen to me'.
When a story takes me to that other place so that I want to find out just that little bit more but not really become part of it. When I can't turn away from it because there's no logical explanation, and when it chills me but doesn't totally horrify me.
How about you?
So, why do we like dark stories?
It's surely because as humans we just love being a tiny bit scared. We get a deep built-in thrill from being on the precipice. It probably dates back to our primitive years on this planet when life had to be lived on the edge.
I believe it's because these stories take us to a world of the unknown that we wish we did know about . . . we'd like it to nearly be true but not quite, because then real fear and danger kicks in.
It's what I call Big Red Button syndrone: Imagine being shown into a room with nothing but a big red button on the floor in the middle with a sign saying 'Don't press me' What would you do?
Well some would and some wouldn't, but everybody would be thinking about it - considering the possibilities asking themselves 'what if'?' Nobody would be able to switch off the mental torment of needing to go through this process, (excuse the pun).
So, as a bit of a seasonal offering I've penned a tale for Halloween. You can read it here
(Confession here, I actually wrote this a year or two back.)
Personally I don't really celebrate Halloween, and I think a lot of people don't really know why they do! But I often wonder what might happen if there was that little bit more than we bargained for waiting for us, if there was a sting in the tale!
I would love to know what you think.
Please when you've read the story leave a comment below.