Too Dark?

So Loving Husband and I were on the way home from New Jersey, and I pitched him a story idea. (Yes, I pitch ideas to my man. This is sort of like foreplay.) In the story that I pitched, a baby gets killed near the end of the tale.

When I was done, he said, "Wow, that's dark."

So that got me to pondering: What's too dark? Is there such a thing? Are taboos meant to be broken (in the literary world)? Or are they there for a reason?

Yes, this is what I think about on a Saturday night.



Yes, I think there is such a thing as "too dark", but it's subjective, therefore a rule that can be bent if not broken.

Reading about a baby dying would have depressed me before I had my son. Now I would bawl like a little girl and seek out my chocolate stash. Yes, it's happened. There were a few books I've read recently that killed a baby/child/small person who could be confused for one of the aforementioned. The scenes depressed me, but I didn't quit reading the books because of them. Each scene was well written and fit into the plot. There weren't dead kids used merely for shock value--they existed because the villain was pure evil (thanks, Rob Thurman, for the nightmares!!!) or because the world the characters lived in was that formidable (Jordan Summers' world makes me appreciate my life!!!).

Short story long, if it feels right and it is necessary to the plot, I say do it. Be respectful, like you would for any dead body, but do it. I've read your books, and I believe you can do make it work.
Jackie said…
OMG, Rob Thurman!!! :)

Thanks for the encouragement, Jackie!
Irena said…
I don't think anything is necessarily too dark. I think that some ideas are just not going to be accepted by the average public. If a subject is too far from the average person's idea of what could and could not happen then your fan base for that book could suffer. If you can imagine it, then somewhere somehow it has probably happened, unfortunately the majority of the people out there don't want to accept the bad in humanity.
I read a couple of books where babies died and the first time, I was pregnant and it was really hard to read, but I reread the book, it was still horrible, but I saw that is was so necessary for the book, that is would have been a disappointment for it not to have been written. So, you decide, it is not whether someone lives or dies in the end, no matter their age, it is whether or not that book is made or broken by that tragedy. Good luck!
Jackie said…
Thanks, Irena. :)

When I was pregnant, I watch the Duke game on TV...and one of the players got hurt, bad. His mother ran onto the court to help him, and I started bawling my eyes out. Sigh. I was **such** a sap!
Kat Richardson said…
It's really situational. I've killed off dogs, kids, babies, nice guys, innocent people, and tortured a few into madness and death. In the writing, that is. How you write it and how necessary it is to the story, context, and how well it follows and flows from what came before make all the difference. Just killing something for the shock value or to make the villain "badder" are cheap shots which I know you wouldn't take. It's too bad for the fictional baby, but if it's necessary to move the plot correctly and with proper emotional weight, then it's the right amount of dark.
Denise said…
Hmmmm, I think it definitely depends on the scene, if it feels at all like it's there for shock value or just to "prove" how bad the bad guy really is, I don't like it at all (I'm a Mom of two), if it is well written and necessary for the story, I still don't like it but will keep reading the book.
-Kelly Meding said…
Kat pretty much said it for me. Folks who've read my book know it's got some pretty dark moments. One flashback in particular I waffled on for a while, because it really touched on that "is this too dark?" line for me. In the end, I left it in, because it was true to the story.

If I want violence and death for the sake of violence and death, I'll watch a teen slasher movie. In books, I want more than that--both as a writer and a reader.
Jackie said…
Excellent points, all.

In the story I'm thinking of, the baby **has** to die. That's the whole freaking point. Still, it makes every Mom vibe in me want to go "LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!"

Well, I pitched the story. Let's see what the editor says. :D
T.M. Thomas said…
As someone that had too-dark worries about a zombie baby story recently...go for it. Boundaries are meant to be pushed.

Plus, as a non-breeder, I think the horrifying little moppets get it too easy in fiction.
Jackie said…
You're right. They do.

Hey -- has anyone else here noticed how some middle-grade novels start off relatively light, and then by around book three, WHAM, people start dying? Is that because the readers are older? Or something else entirely?
Demon Hunter said…
Whatever works for your story, Jackie. A published author told me that I shouldn't kill kids in my WIP, but I did anyway because it was a central part of my plot. Do whatever works for your story. I'll read it. ;-)
writtenwyrdd said…
I think judgment of too dark or not is based more on how it fits the story than actual darkness. As a reader, I accept anything that resonates as true for that story, those characters.

And I confess to preferring really dark stuff, even though when I start to write it I keep thinking people will think I'm awful for writing stuff like that.
Kat Richardson said…
On the middle-grade/YA thing: I think a lot of series start light because it's an easy hook and as they get more established and have a core of fans, the writer feels more secure about hitting harder themes and topics. It's a measure of success that a book for teens has the support to go after harder material without losing fans or editorial support. Kids aren't softies: they live in the same beastly, wretched world as the rest of us.
Jackie said…
They sure do, Kat. They sure do.

Thanks for all the comments, everyone! I haven't heard from the editor yet. I'll keep you posted. :D

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