Dark and edgy: Can it go too far?

As of late, my writing has been revolving around a rewrite in the beginning. I haven't yet finished the whole story, but this rewrite was plaguing me. Not only is it more interesting, intense, and edgy, it will help straighten out the plot in the long run.

I spoke to my best friend and fellow writer Sarah about the new idea and we both came to the conclusion that it would be awesome if it was dark and edgy. So I went to work. I wrote out the first chapter and sent it to Sarah just to see if it was a good way to start. Consensus? She liked it.

I kept writing, eager to get it onto paper. More ideas spun off of this one, changing plot points and character intros, but it was a good change--a better one.

3500 words into the rewrite and I realized that it had gotten dark. Very dark. So dark that I asked Sarah about it. I had her read a section that tugged at my own heartstrings. Mostly because it involved a child in pain. At the same time, I love the section because it shows that in this Dystopian world, no age is safe. But a part of me worries that it might be too depressing for readers.

Here is the excerpt in question, taken from Concealed. The context here is my main character, Neira, broke into a prison to rescue those inside. This is what she sees.

My hands fumbled with the key card in hand, hurrying to open the section two cells.

Pain tore at my insides when the doors swung open and I saw them shivering in the corner of their concrete boxes. They all looked up at me with those sunken, glassy eyes and disheveled hair, licking their colorless lips. Some of them were standing there waiting, hearing the commotion from beyond the walls. Others were too fragile to move, every curve of their bones and joints visible under the taut skin. I always tripped over trays of uneaten food in these rooms. It was the resistance—the last strike against the guards. The only thing of their life they could control.

The next cell opened and the Drifter next to me strode over to the person in the corner. He was just a kid, no older than ten. Mussed bronze hair fell to his shoulders and green eyes grew to the size of a quarter when the Drifter knelt down next to him.

He smiled at the boy. “My name’s James,” he soothed. “What’s yours?”

The boy trembled, whether from excitement or cold, I couldn’t tell. All that came out of his mouth was a mousy croak. “David.”

“I’m here to help you, David,” James replied, holding out a hand..

Even though I have no kids of my own, the motherly instinct in me loathes thinking about children being hurt or scared, which I hope shows in this and earlier parts of the rewrite where Neira often reflects on how much she wants to help them, but before she can, she must make it safe for their escape by ignoring them. It kills her to just walk past them, but if it all works out, they'll be free.

My book is heavily based on morals and doing the right thing versus doing the easy way. Because of this, pain is evident throughout the book. My question is, would depressing, dark scenes turn readers away. With New Moon, most people hated it the most, what with Bella being in a depression the entire time and the love of her life about to commit suicide.

While I say I'm unsure of the response, I'm not all that worried that my book would become this. I have faith in myself as a writer to be able to balance the good with the bad. I really think the only moment to really upset people would be the end, which despite most books, does not have a happy ending. It actually rather sucks, but at the same time, I kind of like that. I like how not everything ends happily every after, and even though my MC is put into this bad situation, she reflects on the the good things she had done and accepts what her life is about to become.

So to my readers, what are you opinions? Do you have moments of doubts with edginess? Would you be more inclined to read a book with a happy ending than a sad ending? I would love to know your thoughts.


Kaitlin Ward said...

I think there's a HUGE difference between gratuitous violence, and necessary violence. Reading your wonderful excerpt, I didn't feel like you were playing the Kid Card (aka using sick kids JUST to make me sad). I felt like it was going somewhere. I always need to feel that when I'm reading something. If there's a reason, I'll read about even really horrible things, and I won't hate the author for it. Sometimes, the ending just can't be happy.

Julie Duck said...

I agree with Kaitlin. Strong emotion is evoked when reading your snippet... yes, it is instinctive to protect kids, so reading something like this pains me a little. However, it's necessary for the story. We hope that the children will be saved, and it sounds like that could very well happen.

I love dark and edgy writing. The truth is painful, but it often helps us to see things in our lives from a different perspective we never thought of.

- Julie

Sumayyah said...

I've got to agree with the Kaitlin and Julie. Sometimes life is painful, and given the premise of your book, it makes sense to demonstrate that on such a level.

I was going to say a lot more, but my brain is fried, lol. Bottom line: I don't think you need to worry. ;)

Kathleen said...

Agree with what's been said. It's not gratuitous and, furthermore, it serves a really good purpose.

I do know how you feel, though. In the book I'm currently querying, there is a fairly violent assault. A few of the beta comments I received pointed out that I didn't dive into the MC's head as much as I could have. I rewrote the scene and it's brutal but, objectively, I know they were right. The story wasn't served by my glossing over the scene.

Glen Akin said...

"Dark and edgy" can only be properly portrayed when a story calls for it, and your story does call for it. I think your story would suffer emotionally if things weren't told this way - if the children weren't in their present predicament. Remember, you're not doing this simply because you want people to go, "awww those kids." You're doing it because it's the best way to describe the harsh environment those kids dwell in. Happy writing :)

J.S. Wood said...

Dark and edgy are necessary for some stories. What you have written there is beautiful in a haunting way and that isn't bad.

Not every book needs to have a happy ending as long as something good comes out of it for the character, do I prefer happy endings, yes, but a sad ending will stay with me much longer than a happily-ever-after.

Amna said...

I think making a book dark and edgy just for the sake of it being 'edgy' is what annoys a lot of readers. When reading your excerpt, there was some pulling of my heartstrings and I agree with the above comment because I feel like this is going somewhere. Its the an interesting premise that happens to be dark, your not making it intentionally dark for the 'shock' factor. You're good ;)

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