What Is Dark Fiction?

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Dark fiction is another term for horror, a genre of fiction concerned with fear, death, and the sinister side of human nature. This is not limited to written literature, but encompasses a wide body of popular media, including movies and television series. Although such fiction is not for all tastes, writers of horror maintain that their work discusses important aspects of the human experience. The term dark fiction is sometimes used to distinguish certain stories from the mainstream horror genre. These stories may be less fantasy-oriented than most horror fiction and contain subtler emotional effects.

Monsters and other elements of horror have appeared in storytelling since prehistory and figure in such early narratives as Beowulf and The Odyssey. In the 1800s, novelists such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Henry James incorporated monsters, vampires, and ghosts into their stories, creating the earliest horror novels. During the 20th century, the genre enjoyed widespread popularity, although its subjects are controversial to some. In his nonfiction treatise Danse Macabre, author Stephen King maintains that writing and reading horror fiction is a healthy way for people to deal with the inevitability of death.


Dark fiction describes fiction that contains horrific elements, but may fall outside the standard definition of horror literature. Similar terms include dark fantasy, which is used for fantasy stories concerned with death and horror. Such stories may be told from the monster’s point of view, for example. The word dark can be added to any genre term to denote bleak moods and story lines. The phrase dark suspense, for example, can describe suspense stories that do not end well for the protagonist.

Dark fiction appears frequently in other media, such as television, movies, and comic books. Neil Gaiman’s comic The Sandman was a highly praised example in the 1990s. Drawing on elements of horror, fantasy, and superhero stories, the series nonetheless provided a worldview that fit well within the definition of dark fiction. The TV series Twin Peaks and The X Files also contained strong elements of this form.

Horror fiction often contains elements of fantasy such as demons or monsters. Dark fiction can explore the darker side of human nature without employing such fantasy. A well-known example of dark fiction without obvious fantasy elements is the Chuck Palahniuk novel Fight Club, made into a film by director David Fincher in 1999. Both versions of the story present bleak views of human nature, society, and the future. Although Fight Club features graphic violence, the story is generally not considered part of the horror genre.


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Post 4

I wrote two novels that do deal with the darker side of human nature. The story is driven by the use of abilities such as telekinesis, etc. rather than demons and such. There is a wolf who communicates with certain characters, but he is a positive influence. The protagonist is not murdered or violently abused.

I have trouble finding the category in which to place them. I like to call it paranormal suspense, but Amazon, among others, doesn't really address the paranormal unless talking about ghosts, vampires, etc. A couple who have read it have described it as dark fiction. What would you suggest for categorizing it?

Post 3

@umbra21 - There's nothing wrong with that though. I mean, even if a genre term only describes one book, what's the harm of having it?

I think in reviews people like using terms like Wizardpunk so that they can put across the feel of the book, rather than because they are trying to invent something new.

And calling something dark fiction is always going to be open to interpretation because the word "dark" can be used in so many ways.

Just like you could call something humorous and apply that term to many different kinds of books.

But, if you call something humorous fiction, you expect that to be mostly a comedy book and I think if you call something dark

fiction you expect it to be mostly dark writing, rather than simply to have a few dark themes in it.

I would call Fight Club dark fiction as it is almost entirely a dark book. The Bell Jar on the other hand, is sad and has some dark places in it, but the whole thing isn't dark and in fact it ends on a lighter note (unfortunately, unlike the author herself.)

Post 2

@Iluviaporos - I think there is a difference between fiction that has dark themes and fiction that can be classified as "dark fiction".

The problem is that there is no one to really make the decision as to what should be called what.

That's why you get so many terms like "wizardpunk fiction" popping up all over the place. I mean, something like "steampunk" sort of makes sense, but it can be taken too far in my opinion.

And you also get terms like "dark fiction" which have the opposite problem as seem very open to interpretation and could be applied to almost anything.

I think that horror writers should be able to keep "dark fiction" as part of their genre however, as it gives them a way of toning down the gore without losing the fact that it is still considered a horror.

Post 1

I think that dark fiction describes a way of writing that can fit into several genres and not just horror.

It will usually be put into horror, but I think Fight Club is an excellent example of dark fiction that few people would describe as a book in the horror genre. The Sandman series is another good example. I suppose it does contain some elements of horror in it but I've always thought of it as much more squarely placed in the fantasy/supernatural genres than being in the horror genre.

I would also argue that there are other books, like perhaps The Bell Jar, which could be described as "dark fiction" which aren't fantastical at all and couldn't be described as horror either. But I would still call it dark fiction because it deals with very dark themes, like suicide and depression.

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