In the Dark: Writing Dark Right, Class 1 by Blizzardeye

Blizzardeye shares some tips on writing dark scenes in fanfics and original stories alike.

Art by alex-harrier

Good morning, Class! Take a seat, this will be a long one.

No Warrior Cats fan can deny that our beloved series is already dark. Even so, plenty of fanfic writers feel the need to go even darker. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with adding a bit of edginess to your fic, (it happens all the time, even with more lighthearted fandoms!) there’s such thing as going too far.
You see, most people have what they call a “Edge Event Horizon”. When an author adds so many dark elements to their work, the work either becomes
A) Laughably over-the-top instead of serious and/or scary,
B) Too hopeless to care about anymore.
Once you’ve crossed the Edge Event Horizon, it’ll be quite difficult to get people interested in your story as anything serious or satisfying, even if you improve your writing!
So, to nip that problem in the bud, I am here with a crash course on how to avoid getting drunk on the dark n’ edgy side. The first class is about characters and plot devices- who and what make the story go?

Who?
Characters
First tip- Any character at all can appear in a dark story. Dark situations happen all the time in real life, and anyone can get caught up in them. The Warriors series itself is infamous for throwing cute and innocent characters into dark scenarios.
However, many aspiring fanfic writers stick to a specific kind of cat for their dark stories- cynical, mysterious, with a bad past and an equally bad attitude. This archetype isn’t necessarily bad, per se, but when everyone is like this, things get pretty boring, pretty fast. So, spice it up! Follow in the Erin’s footsteps and throw in a total cutie of a character. Or, have the cat with the bad past be something of an optimist. Maybe have the cynical character act motherly towards the rest of the cast, for their own reasons. The bottom line is to make your characters distinct from one another.
Another important thing to remember is character development. Remember the Erin’s habit of throwing cute cats into the angsty plot? Well, another thing Warriors is infamous for is that the innocent characters rarely stay innocent. Many fanfic writers who have already followed the above advice of having different types of characters have cute characters that don’t stay cute. Sadly, plenty of inexperienced authors make another mistake- they have the cute cat do a complete 180 on their character, even if it wouldn’t make sense. Here’s an example, with hypothetical cat Sorreltail. In the first act of the story, she was established as a somewhat childish cat who despises fighting, does not hold grudges, and has never killed anyone before.

“No, mother!” Sorrelbranch squealed from the bushes she was hiding under as the BloodClan warrior slashed Iceriver’s stomach open, letting the blood spill out.
“Run, Sorrelbranch!” Iceriver gasped with her last breaths, before she fell limp.
Instead, Sorrelbranch rushed out from the bushes, right up behind the cat and jump on his back, sinking her claws in. He yowled, before she bit him on the neck and watched him fall limp.
“That’s what you get.” She sneered at the BloodClan cat’s dead body.

Um, what? First of all, Sorrelbranch hates fighting, so why would her first instinct be to attack this cat, let alone one that just killed her mother? The last point might have been somewhat justifiable if not for the fact that Sorrelbranch isn’t a vengeful person. Plus, this is Sorrelbranch’s first kill. If this moment was being written believably, she would have had felt remorse, and probably be horrified. Yes, this cat killed her mother, but taking a life is a very big deal, unless you’re a sociopath.
The point for this one? Don’t derail your characters and call it ‘character development.’ Character development happens slowly, over time.
A more believable way to handle this is to have Sorrelbranch run away in fear, then feel guilty over running away. Then, she resolves to at least try to fight, so that she can protect her loved ones. Soon, she meets the BloodClan warrior that killed her mother again, and because she’s picked up more violent traits, she kills him. However, this taking of a life horrifies the innately peaceful Sorrelbranch, causing her to sink into a depression. When she gets better, she’s become quite world-wary and less childlike. While she still hates fighting, she no longer hesitates in battle.
Still in doubt? Here’s your homework, aspiring darkfic writers! If your cat goes through a character-changing event in the story, do us all a favor and research similar events. Psychology websites and support groups are good places to look- how would a normal person (or no-so normal) react to such-and-such happening to them?

What?
Plot Devices
Plot devices come in all shapes and sizes. In most Warrior Cats fics, it’s something that a Clan or Clans need to survive. It could be herbs, or a place full of prey. In the canon Warriors series, one example of a plot device is The Stick.
I haven’t seen this used often in Warriors fan fic, but in others, there’s a plot device that has all sorts of nasty side effects for using it. That wouldn’t be so bad, if the side effects made sense. However, when they don’t, you have a problem. Another common problem is to have the nasty effects be something very unpleasant, dangerous, or even deadly… but the cats who matter don’t suffer from those effects, for whatever reason.
Let’s go back to our beloved Stick for a moment.
The Stick makes you hear the voices of all the deceased Ancients, that makes sense considering its whole thing- in the past, it was used by Rock to track how many cats passed their little test in the caves. A reasonable side effect of hearing the dead cats might be distress and anxiousness, but nothing too bad.
However, if The Stick made any cat who was ‘unworthy’ who touched it get Greencough, well, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense. Plus, if readers are only told that people who touch The Stick get Greencough only for the hero to pony right up to it and carry it around without getting sick, the readers are going to cry foul, even if you explain the ‘worthy’ part afterwards. Besides, if the Nasty Side Effects™ aren’t going to affect any cat we care about, why toss it in there?

That, my pupils, is all for this class! Next time, we have the what and when of storytelling- in other words, all about the setting and Warrior Cats cannon.

Class dismissed!
RISE! BOW! AYE!

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  11 Replies to “In the Dark: Writing Dark Right, Class 1 by Blizzardeye”

  1. Nightwhisker
    November 15, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    I’m not writing Warriors fanfiction, but I am writing a dark story related to wolves. The main character is one of the few wolves who would classify as normal in our society, but too weak and soft to the other wolves. Because he’s a wotness to a murder, he’s practically dragged into an investigation by a much less innocent cat.

    This post was really helpful to me… thank you!




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