Writing How to effectively make a story dark(How to set up an effective tone)

Gryphon

The One who has the Eyes
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I posted some time ago about the difference between a "Dark story" and an "Edgy story." In the end I gave what I believe is the most defining factor of differentiating those two stories. Some people agreed, some didn't and gave their reasonings while coming up with their own ideas of what makes a story dark versus what makes a story edgy. However, there was another sentiment in the thread where it seemed some people didn't understand what makes something dark, and what makes something a normal story. This is me hopefully explaining what makes something dark versus what is the normal run of the mill story.

The first misconception I want to toss out of people's minds is that the plot synopsis of the story is what makes a story dark. That is not the case. As an example, the jovial adventure shounen story, One Piece, has themes of government corruption, slavery, generational trauma, Rich Vs. Poor, and a bunch of other intensely dark themes. Yet it only takes reading the first two chapters, if not the first, to realize it's a lighthearted shounen adventure action story. That's why you shouldn't automatically assume the plot or themes of the story will automatically make a story dark. What it all really boils down to is tone.

Oh, tone, you seductress maiden that calls to newbie authors, only to ensnare them in their lack of experience. For people that don't have a fidgety upun clue what tone is, the basic definition is the way the story is written determines the primary emotion felt from the reader. Someone reading Berserk will have a much different feeling than when they read Naruto. One story forces the reader to look upon the folly of man in their quest for absolute power, and how that power can lead to an enemy that will chase you down to the ends of the earth to exact their vengeance from all you've done to them. Another is about ninja wizards that summon giant toads fight in a war. One makes you feel this sort of melancholic euphoria while reading, the other will most likely be turn your brain off fun.

This is the biggest factor to making a story dark or not. From there a writer will have to decide if they want purebred darkness, edgy darkness, or just go straight grimdark. But exactly how does one hone the tone of their story. There are many ways to bend the tone of the story to how you see fit.

There are three main ways to establish tone, each periodically happening throughout the story. The first way is through the first sentence, or the first paragraph if you want to be as lax as possible. Reading, "One night, I went to sleep, and the moment I opened my burning eyes, the whole word seared itself in fiery red blood," will elicit a different feeling from the reader than, "One night, I went to sleep, and the moment I opened my eyes, the morning sun shined brightly through the window, welcoming me to a wonderful new day." They're just kind of different in many ways.

The first sentence will let the reader now what kind of emotional state they'll need to be in to enjoy the story, and it lets them know the primary emotion the story wants to delve from the reader. One of my favorite tricks to use is to set up a false tone with the first sentence, only for the real tone of the story to show itself sometime afterward. It plays with the readers emotions, and when done well it'll clue the reader in that there will be many more surprises down the road. Hunter X Hunter is kind of famous for this trick as the story starts out seemingly wholesome and like a normal shounen action adventure, only for shit to go down really quick, and then meld into the brilliance that is the Chimera Ant arc. Have I said how much I adore Hunter X Hunter yet. I'll say it fifty more times to be safe.

The next big thing that determines tone is the way a writer writes the story. Usually when a writer wants to elicit more primal feelings from a reader and delve deep into their psyche, purple prose is genuinely the best for that specific job. That's not the end all be all, however, since The Road is one of the darkest stories one will ever read, and it reads like a first draft. Adding more details will help establish the tone greater, as well as the darker themes going on.

As an example, read these two scenarios. They're going through the exact same things, but keep in mind what I'm really trying to convey to you.

  1. Carnel woke up, placed the coffee for the ready, made his lunch, grabbed his coffee, packed his bags, and scurried out of the house. Each task was done in quick succession, with the practice of years that he's had to do the same mindless tasks, but the pay was worth every brain cell wasted. He drove to work, stopping at lights here and there, only for them to turn green, letting him carry on with his day. The day is bright, the sun is shining, and a laser from the alien spaceship hovering above just destroyed his favorite supermarket. This great day just turned worse indeed.
  2. Carnel awoke, his eyes burning from the cold air conditioner blowing in his face all throughout the night. He wanted to turn it off, but then that'd just end up with him waking up drenched in his own sweat, and he would rather wake up with fire in his eyes, instead of taking a half hour shower. As soon as he stepped out of his room, he began his daily routine. First, he poured water in the coffee pot and got that started. Then he made his lunch, keeping constant watch on the coffee pot. It had broken a long time ago, so he had to manually time it in his head to make sure his coffee didn't burn. Once he was sure the coffee was done, he turned the pot off, poured the starch black liquid in a thermos, and made his way out the door. As soon as he closed it, the morning heat hit him like a bat slamming on the side of his head. The days have only seemed to grow longer, and even winter failed to delve to any depths lower than the minimal fourty degrees. Climbing into his car felt more like he had just stepped into an oven, but the air conditioner quickly kicked in before he burned to death. He started the car, and began making his way to work. The days have turned monotonous. Way too monotonous. If he could actually use the time that passed from his daily routine for anything worthwhile, than he'd be the king of Egypt by now. A red light came up, and he slowed. A grocery store that he frequented sat to his left, and right away the smell of the freshly cooked chicken sitting behind the glass of the in store deli popped into his mind. Once he made it through work, he'll stop by the store, and pick some up. Even though that was also part of the monotony of his life, at least he enjoyed that specific section of it. However, that wouldn't come. A laser shot down from the very heavens themselves, and the store exploded into a mess of brick and metal. A large chunk of the store that broke off from the store flew toward him. He cowered in his car, only for the rubble to soar over him and slam into the car next to him. When he realized the situation was over, he peeked out his window and toward the destroyed car. The only thing he could see beside a mess of metal was a woman's hand, a single ring on her finger, under the rubble.
Take a few seconds to think of what I want to convey from these examples. Well there's no time to think cause I'll just give it to you anyway. Detail. In the first example, the lack of detail is what makes it an enjoyable read. You don't think about the amount of people that died. A giant UFO just appeared out of nowhere! How cool is that! Pay attention to that instead of everything else! A story that's more lighthearted will usually focus more on the grand scale of the world changing event rather than focus on the small things, like human lives. Stories without a dark tone would rather the reader focus on the spectacle of the situation, so that they can go ahead and get the guns blazing and the power fantasy working.

Darker stories, however, will add in the detail behind the scene. They'll try their hardest to put the reader into the shoes of the main character. If the main character is feeling bored, going through tasks that he would rather not do, than the story will also make the reader feel that way. They'll show the actual disaster of the event and the human lives taken and the tragedy surrounding them first before sizing up the threat that took them away in the first place. The devil's in the detail after all.

Again that isn't an end all be all, but adding more detail into a story will place the reader firmly in the story, only for them to find nothing but blood at their feet.

I'll probably get into this more, but I'm tired. I've been busy writing a book I actually plan on publishing rather than posting it on any sites. So yeah.
 

Zirrboy

Fueled by anger
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Once again I disagree, at least in the name you gave the idea.
Detail by itself doesn't make a story dark, it's about which details you include.
This does to some degree imply that little detail means light tone, but the other way doesn't work like that in my opinion.
If instead of the shitty morning you had described someone who couldn't wait to start into the day and finish what they left, feeling rested and optimistic, the tone would be a different one.
Meanwhile going in detail about all his favorite products from that supermarket now being crushed or vaporized would make the horror the event is feel much more comedic.
 

Gryphon

The One who has the Eyes
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Once again I disagree, at least in the name you gave the idea.
Detail by itself doesn't make a story dark, it's about which details you include.
This does to some degree imply that little detail means light tone, but the other way doesn't work like that in my opinion.
If instead of the shitty morning you had described someone who couldn't wait to start into the day and finish what they left, feeling rested and optimistic, the tone would be a different one.
Meanwhile going in detail about all his favorite products from that supermarket now being crushed or vaporized would make the horror the event is feel much more comedic.
Yeah I do agree with you on this. Once again, I was tired when making this since I had stayed up till midnight, but I wanted to just get my views out before I went to sleep. I could have worded it better to be frank, but I still stand behind the other points I detail out. Ironic isn't it. I talk about detail and then I leave out a lot of detail due to my hubris.
 

Zirrboy

Fueled by anger
Joined
Jan 25, 2021
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Yeah I do agree with you on this. Once again, I was tired when making this since I had stayed up till midnight, but I wanted to just get my views out before I went to sleep. I could have worded it better to be frank, but I still stand behind the other points I detail out. Ironic isn't it. I talk about detail and then I leave out a lot of detail due to my hubris.
Nobody's perfect
 
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