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cleverpun


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Nov
3rd
2016

Dark Fic: What Separates the Good from the Bad · 2:01am Nov 3rd, 2016

Those who have read enough of my fics know that I like Dark fic. I find extrapolating from canon, making it more dramatic and dangerous, to be an interesting challenge.

Yet Dark fic is also one of the most commonly derided sub-genres of fanfic, because so many stories do it so badly. For today’s blog post, I’d like to discuss one of my favorite types of fanfiction: what separates the good from the bad, and how those ideas can be seen in other types of fiction as well.

The first thing to remember about Dark fic—and ultimately, about all fiction—is that a story must be a good story. A story’s darkness, its ideas, its themes: none of those mean anything unless it first works as a narrative.

I think this is the first misstep that a lot of fanfiction makes, but Dark fic especially. If the only goal of a story is to be dark, then it has already failed at one of the fundamental goals of storytelling. The same can be true of any theme or idea. A story that only strives to be cynical, or to show a specific relationship, or whatever, isn’t truly a story: it’s a spectacle, a gimmick. And a gimmicky spectacle is too shallow to hold the attention of most readers.

This leads into the second thing to remember about Dark fic. Shock value is not the same as darkness. Being surprising or contradictory or intentionally off-putting is only the bare minimum of Darkness. It is a way to make things mildly uncomfortable, perhaps, but such things are too played out to ever be really Dark. After a reader consumes enough of any entertainment, these sorts of basic things are going to be played out and unengaging. Only the most inexperienced of readers will find buckets of blood and rusty knives “Dark”, and less so with every iteration.

This leads to my last point. Truly good Dark fic must extrapolate upon canon. It must hold up a mirror to the universe and characters we love, and cast some new light or interpretation or viewpoint on them. Simply having a character murder someone is certainly dark, but it’s also lazy and bland. Contextualizing that murder, explaining the action, exploring the mindset of the characters involved, and tying all that into the canon of the work is what makes it interesting. Anyone can make Pinkie Pie a sociopathic murderer. But to make such actions believable is the challenge of Dark fic.

Like any good fanfiction, the more an author distorts canon, the more and more removed the reader will be from the setting. That fine line—changing canon just enough to stay near the show, but also allow Darkness to seep in—is the challenge of Dark fic. Unsettling the reader while still letting them believe the show is being represented (mostly) faithfully is the apotheosis of Dark fic.



I finished watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica earlier this year. It wasn’t perfect—nothing is—but I liked it a lot. It reminded me of Sailor Nothing (though I read that quite some time ago), and even some of my own fanfics.

As a dark take take on the magical girl genre, it also made me think about what makes deconstruction and dark fic work. It spurred this blog post, which hopefully was an interesting read.

Thanks for reading. As always, comments, criticism, and counterpoints are welcome. As with all my blog posts, being wrong or off-track is well worth starting a discussion.

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Comments ( 4 )

Not to toot my own horn, but this was a big part of my objective when I started writing pony fiction in 2012. Back then, most Dark stuff was either splatter fiction or war stories. Classic-style Horror simply didn't exist in this fandom at the time.

It seems to have worked, because Scribbler just finished what I can only call Horse Voice Month. Most of her listeners seem to like my work, though there are a couple who specifically wish she had done splatter fiction instead.

But there's one last gory detail. When you said...

Only the most inexperienced of readers will find buckets of blood and rusty knives “Dark”

... I don't know if you know how right you were. The kids who have been fans of the show all this time, and are now old enough to go on YouTube unsupervised, seem to like scaring themselves silly with Cupcakes and its ilk, then declaring how they totally weren't scared at all.

Well, they'll come around when they're older, I'm sure.

Your use of the word "fic" confused me at first. You use it as synonymous with "fiction", but I'm used to it meaning "work of fiction", so everywhere you wrote "Dark fic" I expected to read "dark fics" or "dark fiction".

I agree with you; I've read too much shallow garbage that never allowed me to build any suspension of disbelief and connect with the characters, especially in dark fiction.

4282814 I didn't necessarily decide to become a writer of Dark fic: in fact, my first popular story was a Dramedy. But as this blog post shows, I find writing good Dark fic to be an interesting challenge. And I became a fanfiction writer to practice and hone my skills. (Hell, my alt account even has a necrophilia story on it, solely because I wanted a challenge :derpytongue2:)

Ultimately, having tried most every genre, from porn to comedy to drama, I think that Dark fic represents one of the best challenges in fanfiction. Staying close to canon while corrupting and subverting it takes skill. And if one succeeds--if one reflects canon just right--then it will theoretically change the reader's perception of canon forever.

And yes, I certainly had younger readers in mind when writing that note. I recently reread the first manga I read back in high school, and I could only think "ffs, what was my younger self thinking when they enjoyed this?" :rainbowlaugh:

4282879 Sorry. I usually use "fic" as an abbreviation of "fanfic". That's why in the second paragraph of this blog I introduce Dark fic as "a sub-genre of fanfiction." When I refer to all fiction, I type out the entire word. But I see I could've been clearer.

I'm going to ramble a bit. For me, Dark - it seems to come naturally. I'm not really trying to write edgy or anything, it's just that dark themes give rise to earlier writing. Gnosis was me going - well, if you haven't read it, skip the spoilers, but I wanted to do a take on The Usual Suspects, where once you understand the ending the entire story changes - and it's titled as it is because you only ever get to read through the 'naive' version once. It's a story about the price of knowledge - sometimes, ignorance may well be bliss..

So I guess I agree Darkfic is about having something to say. Or about asking uncomfortable questions. I mean, take Black Mirror - there's a perfect example of Dark done well. It's not dark for the sake of being dark, it's dark to cast a light on the worst of human impulses, to show what could come of them if not checked. Part of why it's so powerful is that, well - we watch these and go 'This...this could happen'. It's far-fetched, yes - but Black Mirror isn't impossible which is why it's so powerful. It could happen here.

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