Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How Dark is Too Dark?

Maven Darcy BurkeFirst, let me take a moment for the Romance Vagabonds Blogging Excellence Award! Here’s where I admit a terrible truth. I’m an awful blog visitor. I lurk. My name is Darcy Burke and I’m a lurker. Wow, that feels better! Know that I read far, far more than I ever comment (though I wish I had more time to read—there are so many awesome places to visit out there!). I really wanted to select the other four Mavens because they post some great stuff on their individual blogs. Their links are over there on the right, so stop by some time! Here are a couple places I like to visit:

Word Wenches
Romance Roundtable

And now for the regular Wednesday program...I love me a tortured hero. And from what I read around the blogosphere (see, I do read!), it seems like lots of romance readers and writers love a tortured hero. What about tortured heroines? I love them too, actually. There’s something wonderful about enjoying another person’s angst without having to live it yourself, especially if you’re emotionally invested in them (see my last week’s post on people inhabiting books).

My Golden Heart finalist manuscript, Glorious, features a pretty dark hero. And it’s not that he’s been dark his whole life, he chooses a dark path during a period of deep despair. And the heroine isn’t dark—she’s a nurturer, a people-pleaser—but she makes some pretty dark choices. Choices that almost ruin those she loves the most. Yet, I still believe they are both empathizable characters people worth rooting for.

In the manuscript I just finished, Her Wicked Ways, the hero is a really good guy doing kind of bad things for a very noble cause. For some reason, I shied away from pushing him too close to the edge of darkness and when I revise in a few weeks, I’m going to revisit that because, darn it, I like dark. (Note: “kind of bad things.” Must. Be. Baaaaad things.)

I’ve had ideas for lots of characters or character traits that may be too dark, but I hope if done right, they’ll work. What about an opium-eater who has no shame about it? A man who carries on an affair with his mentor’s wife? (Keep in mind these are historicals.) A female assassin who kills the hero’s beloved father, not knowing he’s the hero’s father? Any of those put you off?

What is it about darkness that is so provocative? I think it’s the ability to be part of a situation in which we could never imagine ourselves. Characters People who have become our friends or confidantes doing things we can only dream about. Think of the worst thing you’ve imagined doing. Like humiliating that obnoxious mean girl in high school. No, worse. Slashing your cheating boyfriend’s tires. No, worse. Shanking your boss. Worse? I dunno, you tell me (or better yet, maybe keep it to yourself). Now, think of a story that includes that fantasy (oh yeah, it’s a fantasy - at least I hope it is) perpetrated by your new best friends. Almost like being there yourself, isn’t it?

To me, acceptability of darkness is all about motivation. If you can motivate a person’s bad decisions, bad attitude, just overall baaaaadness, I’ll buy it. I’ll probably even lurve it with the fire of a thousand suns.

So how dark is too dark? Any books that have done dark to perfection? How about what crosses the line? Take us to your dark side, Mave Faves!


Kelly Krysten said...

I don't think there's a line you cross as long as the darkness is done well. I recently had this discussion with a friend and that was the conclusion we came to.
Jo Beverley and Lisa Kleypas do dark heroes really well. I especially love Derick Craven.

Marnee Jo said...

I agree, that it just depends on how it's done.

I generally prefer lighter characters er, people, but I do read and like darker stuff. Sandra Brown can be pretty dark.

Marnee Jo said...
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Jennifer Linforth said...

I think it all depends on the time period and circumstance (so and opium eater with no shame is fine in an historical) To do dark characters you just need to work harder for their redemption. I have a dark hero in one of my books and a heroine who is not all sunshine and roses either. How your build sympathy for them is the trick.

lacey kaye said...

No dark is too dark! As you know, I'm in favor of all the darkening you can do to both of your manuscripts. Let me know if you need to chat!

Carrie Ryan said...

Interesting because I was talking with a friend about this recently -- wondering how dark you can take a character and still have that character be redeemable? It's a tough call.

I think so long as the reader understands the motivations and understands the choices it's fine. I don't like a dark hero just for the sake of being dark, but I love it when there are great reasons (and I too love me some dark heros!!).

beverley said...

I love a dark character. Too dark for me though was the hero in Courting the Courtesan. Although a very good book, the hero pretty much made me think stalker. And Brenda Joyce wrote about a really dark hero in The Stolen Bride. I love her but he was too dark for me. I like my heroes dark, but I love 'em even better with a touch of dry wit and sarcasm. I love Lisa Kleypas's dark heroes.

Santa said...

I love dark characters and being tortured souls is a bonus in my eyes! I especially like characters who are dark in one book and find their redemption in the next book. Again, Lisa Kleypas does this wonderfully both with St. Vincent in her Wallflower series and with Hardy in her fabulous contemp series.

Congrats, once again, to you Darcy. I think the big bug had a hand in all this. They're good luck in ancient cultures...nah, I just made that last part up! Can't wait to see 'Glorious' on the shelves and in my hands!

Darcy Burke said...

Kelly and Beverley - totally agree re: Lisa Kleypas.

Marnee Jo, I haven't read Sandra Brown. /makes note.

Jennifer, I agree that building sympathy is the tricky part. Beverley's mention of Courting the Courtesan is a great example, IMO. Lots of people loved the dark hero and dark story and for other it was just too much. Darkness, then, is a pretty personal thing. One person's "Oh no you didn't!" is another person's "Hell yes, I did and I'm doing it again!"

And yes Carrie, reasons are everything. Dark just to be dark? Meh. Lacey, we'll talk HWW this weekend!

Darcy Burke said...

And I'm pretty sure Beverley meant Claiming the Courtesan, not Courting the Courtesan. (Which is what I meant, but I still typed the wrong thing.)

beverley said...

Oooops Darcy, you are correct. I did mean Claiming the Courtesan. Anna said her third book will be a bit of a departure from the last two, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what she has in store.

Alice Audrey said...

You like Romance Roundtable? Seriously cool!

Lara Lee said...

Now I loved Claiming the Courtesan. The hero was definitely dark but I loved suffering through with him.

Loved your blog and thanks for giving The Romance Roundtable a mention!

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