A Little Darkness Can Be a Good Thing

strength_of_spirit_cover_for_kindleGuest Post by Amanda Faith.

Writing is a tricky business. An author has to have just enough of various elements to keep a reader engaged in a story. Characters, as well as plot and setting, has to be believable enough that the reader becomes a part of the adventure they are experiencing. Nothing should be all good or all bad. Having darkness in your story makes for intriguing reading, if done correctly.

People generally have a habit of thinking something dark is horror. Not necessarily so. It could be darkness within a person. It could be a darkness that follows someone. The setting could be a dark place as in the struggles a town is facing and the good people trying to overcome their circumstances. Maybe Big Brother is watching or the character is invited to the Dark Side. Any of these elements make a story have a dark tendency.

Relatable characters make them believable. Plots that have ups and downs will be more entertaining. Nothing is perfect nor should it be. That would lead to a rather dull story. Adding a little darkness (or a lot of darkness) does instill fear and suspense. There are a few things to keep in mind when adding dark elements to your story.

  1. You have to keep your audience in mind. If you are writing YA, then you do not want your dark elements so gruesome and disturbing it scares off your readers (and upset parents). If you are writing for adults, you may want to make sure there is an indication on the back cover as to how “dark” your tale is.
  2. Does the darkness fit the genre? Although this one does tie in with the first one, there is a distinction. If you are writing horror, then great. Go for it. What about a dark mystery? Do you have your hard-boiled detective set in that urban underworld city with crime and moral ambiguity? How about the gothic dark fiction? You should have that sense of decay and ruin sprinkled with a touch of persecution. Action thriller? It’s that race against the clock that keeps the reader glued to the pages with of all of the twists and turns. With all of the various sub-genres, the writer needs to keep with the fiction of choice.
  3. World building. This is a very important element. Depending on your story, you will have to make sure that your world fits your problem. It adds the dark tone of the story with all of the history and atmosphere you put in place. Getting the world right sets the mood, making the story more believable.
  4. Don’t make a character too good or too bad. Remember, your audience has to be able to relate to this character. The reader needs to care about the characters. You want that emotional investment to keep your readers engaged. A bad guy can have a redeeming quality or two. The good guy will have some faults. Too perfect, either way, will lose a reader quickly.
  5. Have a clean (or nearly clean) resolution. Sure, the bad guy will lose, but we really don’t want to give up hope for him. Maybe he will realize how bad he is and seek some sort of redemption in the end. He may not become “good.” He may, however, become better than he was. The good guy may lose some of his luster, but given his circumstances in the tale, he was not to come out of it totally unscathed.
  6. Some of the best dark elements are not blood and guts. Sometimes the best dark tales are naked of all ickyness and gore. It can be done. Look at ghost stories, for example. It’s difficult to have a ghost be eviscerated – again.
  7. Good is only good as compared next to evil. You have to have the bad to see the good – and back again.

Adding darkness to the mixture will add depth to your tale and make it seem realistic. There is no perfect world. There are no perfect people. The only perfect thing is to have a reader get lost in your world for a short time.



About the Author:

Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way.

Teaching English and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at www.amandafaith.net.

Pulp Fiction

This month’s theme is “It was a dark and pulpy night” and is intended to be an homage to the pulp stories that filled cheap periodicals at the turn of the last century. (I have to say, it’s still a bit of a shock to me to call 1900 “the turn of the last century,” but I digress.)

The problem is, I never read much pulp sci-fi. Not that I recall, anyway. When I was a kid, in those halcyon days of the sixties and seventies (of the last century) I was reading novels almost exclusively. I did read some anthologies of short stories, but they were mostly by authors I already knew, or the “Year’s Best Anthology of Science Fiction.” Mostly I read those authors that are now recognized as the giants of the genre, such as Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Pohl, Kornbluth, etc. I suppose the closest I came to “pulp” fiction was probably the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs or perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, even though that was the pulp fiction of a yet earlier century.

Anyway, the upshot is that I don’t have much to offer except some genuine curiosity. Were those pulp stories awful? Or were they so awful they were good? Or were there gems buried in the literary rubble? I suppose I’ll have to go find out. In many ways, I suppose I am the modern equivalent of the pulp fiction writer of a century ago. I self-publish my stories in electronic format, which is similar, I think, to the cultural environment those pulp authors inhabited then. And I think my stories are pretty good. So theirs probably were too. Anyway, I have to give props to anyone who has the courage to put themselves out there and deal with the reality of putting any work of art out into public view.

From what I’ve seen in the other articles on this subject and some lazy googling, it appears that the hallmark of those stories was probably a wild and vivid imagination, exercised without restraint in a world that was just coming over the threshold of a scientific and industrial revolution. There seems also to be a thread of horror or even something like paranormal influence in many of the stories.

If anyone wants to give me some recommendations of authors to start with, feel free to comment on this post and promote your favorite pulp fiction authors. I’ll check them out, and then report back here what I think of them.

The Difference Between Darkness and Murk

When I was in my sophomore year, we all had to write a short story about whatever we wanted. Now, I’m not sure what I wrote; the assignment didn’t stick in my head because of what did.

No, the assignment stuck in my head because of what my buddy Jacob did.

See, Jacob went for the most gruesome splatter-based horror story he could. It was the sort of story you’d expect from a tenth-grader, badly written and dripping in gore. At one point a series of people got taken out by a snowplow. Amongst all our friends, it was generally agreed that Jacob had produced a work of pure genius, to rival those of Poe himself. He got a C-.

That story was so “awesome” to my tenth-grade self that I kept a copy of it. And while I was in college a couple of years later, I stumbled across it and re-read the stupid thing. I immediately concluded that “C-” had been generous. Grammar errors aside, the story structure had less cohesiveness than an average porn movie. Oh, the bodies were stacked up like cordwood, but that’s all the thing had going for it. That sanguine veneer covered exactly…nothing.

Now, none of this should come as a surprise to any readers here, save perhaps the fact that I’m talking about a writing assignment from High School at all. Of course it sucked-we were in the tenth grade.

But every time I sit down to try to write something dark, I remember that stupid story. I remember how fascinated I was by it, and then how terrible it was. Those two extreme reactions are interesting and paradoxical enough that they form the core of my thinking about writing dark. And they’re the reason I rarely do it.

Dark writing is often used as a way to cover up bad writing. And it should never, ever be.

There’s a lot of posts going on this month about pulpy fun. And that’s fine, so long as that’s the contract between the reader and the writer. Reader goes in expecting pulpy fun, reader gets pulpy fun, all is well in the world. But doing an intentionally pulpy story is one thing; being dark because it’s a substitute for being good is another.

Let’s take this to cinema for a second. You know why nobody liked Man of Steel? Because Grimdark Superman isn’t a thing. Zach Snyder took on the admittedly steep challenge of doing the Big Blue Boy Scout and completely muffed it. Superman’s a tough character to write specifically because you can’t simply go dark to get a serious edge to your story. You have to have a purely morally upright hero. It can be done–and done very, very well–but it pulls that crutch out from underneath you.

Which should only serve to point out that there is a crutch here.

So, writing good dark fiction requires that one be aware of the fact that going dark can be a crutch. Keep it in your head at all times, because every time you add to the body count there should be a purpose to it. Every murder, every horrible monster; you need to look at the thing you’re trying to evoke in your reader. If it’s pulpy, campy fun, then fine; be up front that you’re going to have pulpy, campy fun. But if you want a really good, dark, horrific story then the first thing you have to do is stop thinking of it as a dark story and just think of it as a story.

Your characters still need to be well-rounded. They still have to have real emotions, still have to think and be motivated realistically. If you have a villain–even one whose goal it is to go about gruesomely murdering people, then that villain needs to have reasons for what he or she is doing. Arguably one of the best horror villains written is Hannibal Lecter, and he’s not great because of his victims. He’s great because his murders stand out in stark contrast to his erudite intellectualism. He’s terrifying because we like him.

So, in short; the trick to writing good, dark fiction is to stop thinking of it as dark fiction. Write your characters. Give them a full life, and let the readers love them for who they are. Watching some random, faceless murdered commit atrocities is fun. Watching a character you love commit atrocities is terrifying.


It’s a dark and pulpy night…a perfect time for suspense–terror—gore–and…


Unicornado!Fossil Lake III: Unicornado! is an Anthology of the Aberrant that mashes up horror tropes and weather-disaster movies with….glittery, sparkly unicorns.

I’ve written about unicorns before–including in the two anthologies, One Horn To Rule Them All (A Purple Unicorn Anthology) and Game of Horns (A Red Unicorn Anthology), which raise funds for Superstars Writing Seminars’ Don Hodge Memorial Scholarship–but I’ve never written about unicorns quite like this.

One of the challenges I’ve had about being a writer who occasionally does horror stories is making sure my readers know what they’re getting from those stories. I’ve got a number of readers who are very excited about my science-fiction and fantasy work, but they’re upset by gore, or they can’t handle anything too scary. Meanwhile, I’ve got other readers who love the spooky stuff!

For those of you who write horror and self-publish, it’s a good idea to make sure your covers and blurbs reflect the content of your story, so people who don’t like the creepy stuff know what they’d be getting in your tale, and people who DO like the creepy stuff know that you’re someone they want to be reading!

I”m fortunate that my publisher wants to be absolutely sure that parents aren’t buying Unicornado! for their kiddies…unless their kiddies are Wednesday Addams!

The blurb makes it absolutely clear that these are not unicorn stories for the little ones.

So, how does one make unicorns scary?

In One Horn to Rule Them All, I wrote about a girl who strikes an alliance with a karkadann–a desert unicorn–and joins a group of unicorn warriors. Karkadanns are pretty scary–dangerous, aggressive, bloody, and hostile. If you’re not the karkadann’s ally, you’d be looking at a terrifying monster.

The mythological karkadann is thought to be based on the rhinoceros. When I was a child, I discovered that my grandma’s King James Bible mentioned unicorns, but my dad’s New English Version Bible translated that Hebrew word as “wild ox.” As a kid, I much preferred the idea that there had been what I knew of as a unicorn running wild in Biblical times.

So, a Biblical unicorn…of a very Old Testament variety. Mix in some of the storms and plagues that tormented Pharaoh when he refused to let Moses and his people go, and you have the makings of some very scary stuff.

My short story “Unicorn Prayers” is one of thirty-two tales of unicorn weirdness in Fossil Lake III: Unicornado! that range from the macabre to the bizarre.

Get your own unicorns here at


or in ebook format on


And beware of the things that sparkle in the dark.