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The Art of Writing Dark Fantasy #amwriting

Whenever I tell someone that I write Dark Fantasy, they recoil. Why? Because they hear “dark” and think “horror”. Or worse.

So I decided to write this article with the hope that when someone searches online for “dark fantasy”, they will find this and understand the art behind it.

Definition of Dark Fantasy:

Dark Fantasy in a nutshell:

Dark Fantasy incorporates the darker and frightening aspects of fantasy. It usually has an atmosphere of horror and dread, though that’s not necessary.

Still confused? How about bullet-points?

  • Dark Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy. (Fantasy deals with the fantastic: magic, mythical creatures, etc.)
  • Dark Fantasy uses elements of fantasy to study the darker side of human nature. (Lots of psychology, weirdness and wonder.)
  • Dark Fantasy is at ease with the gore and horror inherent in its darkness, but it doesn’t aim to frighten. (It’s not horror.)
  • Dark Fantasy has many anti-heroes and “normal” people who have to do unsavoury things for the greater good. (Like how Amy hunts the poachers after her pegasi in “Magic at Midnight”.)
  • Dark Fantasy villains range from being misguided to being full-out bad guys.
  • Dark Fantasy stories delve into the depths of speculative fiction, are dark and twisted without aiming to frighten and gross-out readers.

How do I write Dark Fantasy?

I mix it up with Low Fantasy (where magical events intrude on an otherwise normal world) or Urban Fantasy (where magic and weird stuff creep in on the edges of a world where magic is not the norm and most people are oblivious to it all).

I’d describe “Magic at Midnight” as Low Fantasy and “Dark Desires” as Urban Fantasy. You can see the difference in genres by their covers and blurbs.

I use my own Fae Realm (Faerie, The In-Between, The Wild Wood, etc.) and its denizens to fill out my fantasy world. I blog about the places and creatures I use from folklore once a month and I add it to my “Origin of the Fae” page for ease of access for readers looking for a specific creature.

As for age-range, I think that you can read my stories no matter how young at heart you are or how old your driver’s license says you are. I do think, though, that reader discretion is advised: some of my books deal with mental disease, the fall-out sexual assault, gender identity, animal rights (as in the case of poachers), death, vigilante justice, organ trafficking, and other hot button issues people tend to shy away from. Sometimes these issues are thinly veiled and at other times it is central to the plot.

I do aim to write for the Young Adult market, so I keep my books clean (no graphic violence – at least, I try not to be too graphic, though I’ve become desensitized living in a “burning country”. No sex – though if characters do engage in amorous activities, the scene fades to black like an old movie). Most of my stories are about figuring out who you are and who you want to be (coming-of-age stories with a message about growing up).

Dark Fantasy as explained to my writing friends:

Dark fantasy is all about examining the human condition, looking at the consequences of actions and decisions, and how the beliefs we hold can change the way we see our world.

You can see more here.

Why do I write Dark Fantasy?

I can explore human psychology in the safety of a book by putting people through horrible situations, sit back and watch it play out – without being sent to a place for the criminally insane. It’s loads of fun when done right.

Besides, I can deal with my own monsters through writing… (as explained in this post).

Examples of Dark Fantasy:

“The Vampire Diaries”. Damon is the perfect anti-hero. And Klaus goes from villain to hero (in “The Originals”). It does edge in on the realm of horror, though the Dark Fantasy elements are quite strong here.

The Darkest Part of the Forest” and basically everything else by Holly Black. The use of the forest itself as a villain and how the main character is a normal girl forced to do unsavoury things makes this a perfect Dark Fantasy read.

Stolen: Princeborn” by Jean Lee. This is on the darker side of Dark Fantasy, but absolutely brilliant.

You can always check out my Goodreads shelves for more inspiration.

Do you read Dark Fantasy? What are your thoughts on the genre? Did I clear up the issue for you? Do you have a favourite Dark Fantasy book/TV series?

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18 thoughts on “The Art of Writing Dark Fantasy #amwriting”

  1. Explore human psychology in the safety of a book – exactly! That’s why a lot of us write fantasy and science fiction. We can explore human conditions and world situations in a safe environment.

  2. I study real life crime via televised documentaries. The one aspect I look for with respect to vicious murders is always the question of “why.” For me, I find the actual horror that goes on in people’s homes more terrifying than plots in novels. In novels, the madness can be explained. In real life, we yet have been unable to understand the twistedness of many criminals. However, given your explanation of dark fantasy, I might find those stories a bit over the top; but then, maybe I should give that genre a whirl. Thank you for opening my eyes to a genre I hadn’t considered. Blessings

  3. That’s a great explanation of dark fantasy. Like many, I think horror first, even though I know not all dark fantasy is that genre. Keep on writing.

    Thanks for co-hosting this month.

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