Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dark Fiction without angst.

I don't (generally) accept Dark Fantasy/Dark Science Fiction review requests because the ones I have accepted include a lot more angst than darkness. There are pages and pages of the protagonist whinning about how hard life is and how unfair the world is; it gets boring. Furthermore, it can easily become pointless if the author is so focused on the angst that they forget to make use of it.

You want to describe the emotional toil from an apocalyptic event? Great. You want to establish a character's baseline for future character development (in any particular direction; not just idealistic or positive etc.)? That's good thinking. You want to make clear a character's motivation for a certain act or goal? That shows an eye for character building.  Unless you do something with the angst then it does nothing but show the character complaining about their problems without doing anything to resolve them.  On Tvtropes, we don't call that "angst" at all. We call it "wangst".
This was really bad in one book I read because it was written in the first person. The protagonist couldn't go a page without decrying the corrupt and uncaring government, or how her teammates don't care about her, or the horrible things that happened to her family. All of this was in the narration, so she was essentially turning her head into an echo chamber of impotent self-pitying.
“Blood Skies” is an excellent example of Dark Fantasy without angst.  There's lots of suffering and a great deal of death but no one angsts because this is the status quo. The whole world is like this and has been for some time. Humanity has gotten used to it. This new normal has bred a certain mental detachment and a culture of playing hard because life is short.

"Attack on Titan" avoids this problem.  Whether the people are brave enough to fight the titans or run away screaming, they don't whine about it. During the Battle of Trost, Mikasa basically says, "I'm going to kill those titans. If I die then I'm dead." She is clearly experiencing great mental turmoil due to memories of the last time she saw a titan attack and a more recent personal tragedy but there's no wangst.  Similarly, her adoptive brother's attitude is "no matter how cruel the world can be, fight!". Even the more cynical members of the team, like Jean, are still taking action without long stretches of cynical postulating.

If angst exists in any story then it must be put to use and this is especially important for Dark Fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc.) because there are a lot of things that can cause it.  Use it for characterization or world building or a plot theme but don't let it hang there. Otherwise you get wangst, and that can get boring and pointless quickly.

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

No comments:

Post a Comment