Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Dark Fantasy


Bull Moose,
photo by Robert McCaw,
Elk Island National Park, Alberta.

Seems everything that I do lately, I relate to writing.

Yesterday while giving my husband a hair cut, I noticed his hair is growing closer to his ears and wondered if I should check the calendar for phases of the moon.

I have bitched before that if one breathes the term paranormal, the industry automatically assumes the story involves either weres and/or vampires. I may have whined that there are other paranormal entities from myth and legend worthy of fear, fright and fantasy.

Be careful what you ask for.

Read a review recently about a book that included fey creatures of every form and Court, Greek and Egyptian gods, ghosts, wraiths and slaughs, Jack the Ripper, Dracula, and a staggering plethora of were beasts -- including, to my awe, a were moose.

I trust the author did not include among this pantheonic panorama, a were-sink.

Specifically, that is.

Now I wonder if the same automatic assumption about vamps and weres also applies to urban fantasy. If so, there will be a line in my query on How My Book Is Different.

Also, I have noticed that dark is a frequent and favoured adjective applied to urban fantasy. And I have no idea how one separates, classifies and calculates the difference between presumeably ordinary urban fantasy and dark urban fantasy.

Can anyone help me out here?

55 comments:

Ric said...

Interesting question. Appropriate, too, as my current WIP defies classification. Technically, I guess, is an urban fantasy - but, there are no were-anythings - specifically no were-sink - so it isn't dark. On the contrary, it is light and redemptive.
So, classification is a bitch. It is paranormal, but not preachingly so. But, if a prospective agent/buyer passes on the genre line in the query, what does one do?

writtenwyrdd said...

I find myself applying the term dark to urban fantasy a lot. I think the dark fantasy has darker themes, more blood and death and nastiness. The focus is on the negative side of life and the nastiness people are capable of.

Preditors & Editors says, "Character is up against a conflict that appears too severe to be overcome, and usually is along the lines of a horror atmosphere involving insurmountable odds/evil wizards/evil magic. Can be a modern or mythical setting. A psychological suspense element is often beneficial, perhaps essential."

but seeing as dark fantasy is getting hitched to urban fantasy a lot, it's starting to seem like the only difference between the two, generally, is that urban fantasy tends to haunt the cities rather than haunting the hills.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and for contrast, light fantasy was defined by P&E as "Humorous. High or Contemporary/Urban, with character conflict including scenes capable of bringing a smile to the lips and a lightness to the heart."

writtenwyrdd said...

what is a were-sink, anyhow?

ChrisEldin said...

Dark urban fantasy?
Dunno.
The pyschological unraveling of a zombie abused by his/her parents as a young child. Said zombie becomes an adolescent delinquent bent on destroying tombstones. As he/she grows older, he/she finds relationships never last. The downward spiral continues into mid-life, when he/she makes a decision to live the life of a Breather. Gets a full-time job doing Tim Berton movies.

hehehe! Still dunno.

Jaye Wells said...

Have always wanted to see someone tackle a were-platypus.

For what it's worth, even though my novel includes vamps, I still included a brief (three sentence) summary of what made my world building different.

I'd agree with Writtenwyrrd's definitions of dark vs light urban fantasy.

Bernita said...

"Light paranormal" perhaps, Ric?
Do? Hope for the best!

Thank you, Written.
Perhaps a dark urban fantasy should have horror elements then.

"were-sink?" Think kitchen sink.

Chris, that sounds like the makings of a great plot! Go write it!

Bernita said...

So one could say that dark urban fantasy is an emphasis of evil, Jaye?
That makes it much clearer.

BernardL said...

I've always thought 'Dark' is reading seven hundred pages of a Stephen King novel, waiting for two or three favorite characters to get killed off. :)

Rick said...

Does a were-Bull Moose possess the undead spirit of Teddy Roosevelt? The Industry probably lumps all paranormal critters together, as Weres & Vamps R Us.

I suspect that most if not all urban fantasy is dark, because urban by itself has a noir connotation - mean streets, hookers 'n' junkies, rattling elevated trains overhead. So when the tracks angle downward into a subway, what sort of creatures do you think you're gonna glimpse in those tunnels? Fauns and nymphs? I don't think so.

Our culture also has a quite different image of the Big City - note that chicklit, not exactly a dark genre, stereotypically has metropolitan settings. In principle I imagine a fantasy could work from the positive myth image of the city instead of the noir one, but once the genre was named "urban" fantasy, an expectation of dark was built in.

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita, emphasis on evil? Not sure abotu that part. But I believe dark uf involves darker themes, action and issues. The humor is these books is darker too. Light may have more straight humor or less weighty themes. As an example, I'd call Shanna Swendson's ENCHANTED INC. series light UF (even though it's marketed as romance). Whereas, Kim Harrison writes dark.

Bernita said...

A calculated dread, Bernard? That This Will Not End Well?

Rick, that seems to stereotype urban as all tunnels and alleys and grungy bars; cities as dangerous places opposed to the "natural" world.

More of a no-man's-land world view, with disaster expectations, Jaye?

writtenwyrdd said...

after considering it a while, I think perhaps in a dark fantasy you might almost consider Evil to be a character. It is certainly an element that is dealt with. Or you could call it something other than evil, such as the 'darkness in men's souls' but evil suffices for much of the trope, I think.

So, a were-sink is the thing in the house that eats stuff? Like that missing sock and the tool I need right now that I have to go out and buy?

writtenwyrdd said...

dark fantasy isn't always urban, so it sort of umbrellas the urban dark fantasy. Storm Constantine is dark, but it's not really urban.

I'm going to go run my errands now and quit posting, lol.

Bernita said...

A sense of hovering malevolence, at least, Written.

That would be my were-dryer, I think.

The thing is the author tossed in just about every popular paranormal creature there is; hence my crack.

Rick said...

that seems to stereotype urban as all tunnels and alleys and grungy bars; cities as dangerous places opposed to the "natural" world

Yes. That' not our only cultural image of the city, but it is a powerful one, and the one especially evoked by the word "urban." This last may be a US thing, less felt in the Great North or elsewhere in the Anglosphere. (In the US, "urban" also connotes "black.") But it has English roots too; the gothic vision of Victorian London.

Writtenwyrd is right that not all dark fantasy is urban. Perhaps there's also a distinction between urban fantasy that is merely noir, and urban fantasy that is really dark.

Billy said...

This shows how powerful connotation is. I had always assumed that urban fantasy was dark, but I see Written's point.

Lisa said...

I have no useful observations, but I'm still laughing about the were-moose (as if running into one on a dark road isn't scary enough). I'm looking forward to a good read about a rogue tribe of were-meerkats ;)

Bernita said...

"Gothic" is a good term, Rick, the hidden menaces atmosphere.

I suppose, Billy, it depends on the quality and intensity of the darkness. Including the sense that no victory is possible, at best a stand-off.
However, I don't consider my WIP particularly noir. Maybe I should work on that.

Indeed, Lisa! Not the safest animal to encounter, even in daylight.

raine said...

I have no idea, lol. But will read your comments to find out.
Urban fantasy is different that fantasy, so I'm not sure dark fantasy would be classified as the same thing.
And urban fantasy is ALREADY pretty dark, so it'll be interesting to see how deep that particular rabbit hole goes.

(Were-sink, lol).

StarvingWriteNow said...

I can't help you, dearest. I'm still having a giggling fit over "Were-sink."

(Does Home Depot sell those?)

PS: my word verification today is "iplow." I think I need to get gardening.

Gabriele C. said...

I wouldn't worry about it. Send the thing off and leave it to a publisher to stick a label on it. :)

Whirlochre said...

I'm bemused by genres — we pile on the adjectives in a Germanic way and end up with no idea what we're talking about.

But I digress. I'm here for the weremoose. Definitely a nobler kind of lycanthrope, methinks.

Great picture. Next foggy morning, I'm out there — even though I'm thousands of miles from Canada.

Bernita said...

Since they are related, Raine, the darkness factor might be applicable to both. The " blood and death and nastiness" that Written mentioned.

Eh, WriteNow, I should be digging up the garden too!

Agents like to know the approximate genre, Gabriele, so they can plan who to pitch it to. Am curious how one might define the gradations.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, duh. *forehead smack* I just didn't get it. I hate it when I need the obvious spelled out for me.

Bernita said...

A marvellous photo, is it not, Whirl? A royal hunchback.

Bernita said...

It's not the reader's fault, Written!

December/Stacia said...

Hmm. I consider Personal Demons to be a straight u/f, not dark, because while there's zombies and evil and such, it's got a fairly decent amount of humor and fun.

Unholy Ghosts, on the other hand, is a dark--very dark--urban fantasy, as it's set in a ghetto and revolves around junkies, drug dealers, ritual sacrifice, etc.

Bernita said...

December - as I often do - I agree.
Personal Demons is straight urban fantasy, and from an excerpt I read of Unholy Ghosts it's definitely dark.

SzélsőFa said...

It never occurred to me that paranormal is limited to werewolves, were-sinks (what a brilliant idea!) and vampires.
I think I'm not familiar with these definitions.
I thought paranormal referred to anything, related to events that can not be explained by our modern-day science.
Isn't it so?

(what a great and inspiring photo, btw.)

archer said...

Probably because "sunny, upbeat urban fantasy" sounds kind of weird.

Charles Gramlich said...

I can't help you out at all. I'm completely confused, although I assume adding "dark" means that it moves toward horror. But most of the "dark fantasy" I see out there today has no more in common with horror than the romantic vampire has with Nosferatu.

Bernita said...

Szelsofa, properly speaking, a paranormal novel is one that includes as important plot points, various elements of the supernatural.
However, in practice, because of the popularity of vampires and werebeasts, the present perception is that if a novel is described as paranormal, then it is about vampires and werebeasts.

Though I'm sure there may be stories aimed at the younger reader, for example,that those terms might fit, Archer!

"adding "dark" means that it moves toward horror"
Probably that's what is implied, Charles.

SzélsőFa said...

Thanks Bernita.
I am not the least satisfied with such narrowing of definitions.
I don't get it.

Do writers keep writing about vampires and were animals and such creatures - meaning that hardly any book is published about other paranormal events?
What about haunted places/houses?
Ghosts?
Are they not paranormal enough?

cindy said...

beware the were-hedgehog and the vampiric raccoon! wooooWooOOOWOOooo!!

haha!

love your posts, as always, b. and also love that your story is different.

Bernita said...

Of course there are stories involving other paranormal creatures, conditions, and abilities, Szelsofa. Psychic talents are also quite popular.
Nevertheless,the assumption persists that if one writes a paranormal, it's about vampires or weres.

Thank you, Cindy.
Hedgehogs are rather sweet. Porcupines are not.

Anonymous said...

When used to refer to music, "dark" seems to stand for one or more of the following:

gritty/unvarnished
soullessly mechanized (industrial)
seamy/raw sexuality
Goth-ic (where are those marauders anyway?)
painful non-Barbie themes

A lot of this is just window-dressing. "Dark" can merely refer to atmospherics - or it can represent the story line.

For me a dark story is one where the good guys die, the innocent are trapped and there ain't no justice. Dark really means almost black with a little light coming through, but not enough to triumph.

Asa

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Hi Bernita, I am back from my holiday to Egypt and Italy and excited about catching up on my blog reading. I can't help you with your question but I love certain paranormals - humans with special skills but prefer not to read any more werewolves etc. Been there, done that, over it.

Bernita said...

A good and useful comparison, Asa.
Fits well with Written's description.

Nice to see you again, Suzanne.
There are always writers who can bring new and interesting twists to the standard plots.

Whirlochre said...

All novels are fantasies, I suppose, but with many, the author invites you to summon phantoms you might actually encounter, or, in the case of historical novels, your forbears might actually have encountered (dressed in frocks).

Vampires, zombies and certain TV celebrities are imagined constructs that reside in your brain in a different way to your memory of People I Met Yesterday or Characters I've Based On People I Met Yesterday.

They are aspects of our humanity squeezed through the mangle of the absurd — originally unstereotypical glimmers of world stuff but now almost universal mental events capable of generating their own life.

Thus, they yield to being bound. We can hold and behold them as real objects — and in our enthusiasm for summoning them (and weremoose) from their dark crypt of insubstantial tangibleness, distinguish their unfolding deeds from (say) The Flavour Of Breakfast Cereals I Like by coining arbitrary demarcation dumps such as 'dark fantasy' or 'paranormal horror comedy romance' or all those other forms you are wise to avoid when Jackson Pollocking your phantoms onto paper.

I hate genres to death.

They are The Past. Shorthand to outline What We Have Achieved.

Hardly 'novel'.

Bernita said...

Whirl, the title of my WIP is "The Malignity of Ghosts."

Whirlochre said...

Excellent. Those spooks can be rascals — and the world must be told.

Bernita said...

Thank you.
I'll have to add your theory to my explanations of the Great Ghost Proliferation ( electro-magnetic resonance,enviromental pollution, a collision of dimensions) -
that their appearance is merely a symptom of pervasive societal malaise. That ghosts are simply a poltergeistic phenomena formed from our own fears, produced from our own psyches.
That we haunt ourselves.
All largely irrelevant to the heroine, however.

Aine said...

Were-sink? Does it regurgitate every full moon? I may have seen one of those....

We've had a recent run in with those ever so dark and nasty were-viruses that infect the life-blood of a computer. Perhaps I need a potted wolsbane to keep on the desk (since Jason would surely object to shooting the PC with a silver bullet).

Were moose?? I don't even want to know....

Bernita said...

"Were-sink? Does it regurgitate every full moon?"
~giggling~
Aine, I think you've hit it!

Ello said...

Huh, I had no idea there was a distinction! Will you post the answer when you find out?

Bernita said...

Ello, I think Written's explanation pretty well defines it.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Bernita, I just saw on Raine's blog about your new sale. Congratulations. I have just sold another ms too but to Red Rose Publishing. I suppose I should blog about it some time.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Suzanne.
Congratulations to you.
"I suppose I should blog about it some time."
Hee! I suppose you should.

laughingwolf said...

i call my stuff 'horror/fantasy', and leave it at that ;) lol

great comments, though....

Bernita said...

"i call my stuff 'horror/fantasy', and leave it at that"

Clear and direct, Laughingwolf.
I plan to use urban fantasy and leave it at that.

Chumplet said...

What a great picture! I'd give my were-canines to get a photo like that.

Over at another author loop there was an intense discussion about were penguins. I laugh at the image in my mind.

Bernita said...

A fabulous and difficult shot, Sandra.
Yup, some creatures just don't compute.

laughingwolf said...

good plan, bernita... i find trying to 'explain' tales/poems is similar to attempting the same thing with any creation

it is what it is, different things to different folk... like art should be

nothing wrong in discussing, though

Bernita said...

However, most agents prefer we categorize our stuff, Laughingwolf.