I was talking to someone this morning about my latest novel. She said some very kind things, but the first point she made was how dark the book was. We both felt this was the most important aspect of the story.
It occurs to me now, as I daydream over a cup of black coffee, that in genre fiction it’s crucial, at every juncture, that an author can claim their work is ‘darker’ in tone than any previous fiction based on the subject matter – or at least darker than their own previous work. Obviously we’re not talking about dingy lighting in the prologue or how much of the story is set in a broom cupboard. No, in this context, ‘dark’ just means ‘better’ and it’s become a cardinal rule.
If you want to reinvent a superhero, don’t announce that you’ve produced a much lighter tale than any previous films. And it really wouldn’t go down well if you said you’d focused on the more positive aspects of the character. Even the Harry Potter franchise garnered a little critical acclaim when the tale took a ‘darker’ turn. I wonder if this has always been the way. Were adventure stories always judged on their bleakness? Is there a critically acclaimed Biggles adventure that gives an insight into his tortured soul? Or is there some great significance to the fact that we will no longer accept stories unless they reinforce our worst fears about human nature? I think I’ll just put some milk in my coffee and lighten up.