This article by The Wall Street Journal was very interesting. Read it carefully before proceeding.
elsewhere, the more seriously you take evil, the more seriously you take the good. The inkier the darkness, the more brilliant the light.
On the other hand, as Mrs. Gurdon points out in her article, dark things (like all good tools) can be abused. What I want to assert, however, is that what she has pointed out is not true "dark" fiction but rather a childish parodying of it. What she is pointing out is not darkness; it is depravity, and the authors involved ought to be ashamed for exposing children to such things. I applaud Mrs. Gurdon for exposing these travesties of fiction and their collective assault on the moral character of young adults and teenagers. However, for the sake of all things truly "dark," I feel compelled to try to offer (in a limited way) some parameters for what truly defines something that is "dark." I believe it involves at least two things.
First of all, anything that desires to call itself "dark" must have a sense of gravitas. I do not mean mere weight, nor do I mean boredom or pretentiousness, but rather a sense of seriousness. As mentioned earlier, there is a certain sense of respect and maturity given to the content of the story, all of the content (both the good and the bad). It is treated with gravity, not levity, nor is it treated flippantly, as though it didn't matter. The mark of any great piece of fiction (whether it be dark or not) is that it treats its content like it matters. It knows nothing of shock and titillation; only seriousness. When an author writes about our protagonist seeing a wall "covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises," I cannot take such a sentence seriously. It has no gravitas; it is simply gross. Gruesomeness does not equal seriousness, and anything that is truly dark has first and foremost a sense of seriousness about its contents.
A clarifications is in order. By "somberness" or tragedy, I do not mean merely a perpetual state of angst or ennui. A morbidly depressed character is not "dark"; they are just morbidly depressed. For a character to be "dark," they must be caught in the grip of tragedy, and either are struggling against it towards catharsis (if they are the hero) or have succumbed to it (if they are the villain). Sadness can never be the end unto itself, for that is the way of the villain. There must be a light at the end of this dark tunnel, but you have to go through the dark tunnel first.