Dark Fiction

What is the Dark Fiction Subgenre?

While not necessarily a horror subgenre, dark fiction concerns itself with many of the same themes and elements of horror fiction. Themes include all of the darker aspects of humanity, such as death, fear, and the evil side of human nature. Dark fiction stories will be bleak, booth in atmosphere as well as in plot and thematic elements. While some dark fiction may contain details found in horror, the purpose is less to scare and more to examine these more sinister aspects of human nature, and that may include fear. Scares in this subgenre will be subtle, and for the most part, dark fiction tends to steer clear of the more supernatural aspects of horror, such as ghosts, demons and monsters.

However, dark fiction is actually a pretty vast subgenre. It encompasses many other subgenres such as dark fantasy, dark mystery, dark comedy, and even dark thriller. So, it is still possible to encounter monsters, ghosts, and ghouls in dark fiction, particularly in the dark fantasy subgenre. As a general rule, however, dark fiction tends to concern itself with more human matters.

While the aim of dark fiction is not necessarily to scare, it definitely seeks to disturb. Dark fiction is haunting, but not in the ghostly sense. Images and themes of dark fiction are likely to stay with the reader long after they have turned the last page. Because the themes and elements of dark fiction are what matter most in the subgenre, most everything else can be extremely variable. Dark fantasy and dark science fiction will often contain the unexplainable and supernatural. Dark comedy will contain elements of humor, and dark mystery, dark thriller, and noir all contain complex and intriguing plots. Dystopian fiction and noir with their corrupt and vile societies are also very closely related to dark fiction because they share the same shadowy elements.


Dark Fiction Characteristics

Level of Characterization: The level of characterization in dark fiction is high as believable and relatable characters are needed to guide readers through the somber themes.

Level of Plot: Plots can be moderate to high in dark fiction. This vast subgenre will often feature mysterious and complex plots.

Level of Supernatural: The level of supernatural in dark fiction is most often low. With the exception of dark fantasy, dark fiction tends to steer clear of the supernatural aspects found in horror fiction.

Level of Scary: Dark fiction is not especially scary as that is not the aim of this subgenre. Instead, themes will be gloomy and plot elements. The level of scary in dark fiction is very low.

Level of Violence:  Because this is such a large subgenre, the level of violence in dark fiction is variable. Generally, however, the violence in dark fiction is not used to shock or frighten but instead to further expound on dark themes of the story.

Typical Setting: There is no one typical setting for dark fiction, though dystopian societies seem to be one of the more common in the subgenre.

Related Horror Subgenres

Dark fiction has its own subgenres. These are dark fantasy, dark mystery, dark thriller, dark comedy, and even noir. Horror subgenres related to dark fiction include, comic horror and horror noir. Science fiction genres such as dystopian are also related to dark fiction.

Don't Read Dark Fiction If You Dislike…

Dark and somber themes, as these are a staple of dark fiction. However, if you are seeking truly scary fiction or real thrills and chills, this is probably not the genre for you.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk- When the unnamed narrator seeks a cure for his insomnia, his doctor recommends that he find out what real suffering is by attending support groups. As he does this, the narrator meets the mysterious and charismatic, Tyler Durden, with whom he creates an underground bare-knuckle fighting ring.


The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- Set in a dystopian world where women have no rights, one woman chronicles her day to day life.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn- An example of domestic noir, this mystery unfolds the dysfunctional marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing and all signs point to Nick, could he have murdered his wife to end their rocky relationship?


Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy- This western details the exploits of a teenage runaway known as "the kid" as he journeys with an infamous gang of scalp hunters.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson- When Mikael Blomkvist and his research assistant, expert hacker, Lisbeth Salander, look into the disappearance of a wealthy young woman, they stumble onto the trail of a serial killer.


The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells- An invisible man wreaks havoc on a small village as the first step in his "Reign of Terror".


The Stranger by Albert Camus-Merrault seems to express nothing but casual indifference whether at his mother's funeral, helping a friend get revenge on a cheating ex-lover, or murdering another man, but Merrault's apathy may be his downfall.


A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess- Alex, a gang leader, frequently engages in causing mayhem with his trio of followers in the not-too-distant dystopian future. A schism in the group leads to Alex's arrest and an experimental "rehabilitation".


Lord of the Flies by William Golding- When a group of boys becomes stranded on a remote island, they struggle to survive with disastrous results.


The Lottery by Shirley Jackson-  A small town's brutal ritual ensures a good harvest, but at what cost?

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