I have written before that dark and gritty is the way of things in the modern world of fiction. Whether there is a heavy call for more grit or it is simply author’s and film makers trying to push their vision onto audiences I’m not certain. I think it is possible creators of fiction are trying to capitalize on the popularity of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, both of which are prime examples of dark and gritty fiction.
Grit however, doesn’t belong in everything. The purpose of fiction is to address at larger, important issues, some of which are not addressed often by reality. Time and again I read about stories which will take a “darker tone” along the lines of GOT. I am much more familiar with The Walking Dead than I am Game of Thrones, so I cannot speak much for the latter or its source material, but at the heart of the show isn’t just trying to be realistic, it’s cynicism. So many movies and books lately have taken stories and turned them incredibly dark for the sake of realism. Realism is the ultimate justification for characters dropping like flies and good being forced out to the brink of utter destruction until a small miracle happens at the end. When good finally gets Its day, the main characters typically have become jaded and become stripped of what made them heroes.
In fiction and reality, heroes are not perfect, nor should they be. However, there is a difference between being flawed and being hardly recognizable as a hero, or worse not distinguishable from the villain. This appears to be a growing trend, especially in film and television. Is that really realistic though? Yes, for some people, but not everyone. There are many heroes who endured unimaginable tragedy and still maintain their integrity. It is growing less common to show heroes like this. Dark, anti-hero types are fine and work well in certain stories, but the storyteller must beware of cynicism. The truth is that fiction is escapism for many, if they want a healthy dose of reality and realism, they don’t need fiction. That isn’t to say I don’t expect realism in fiction or to have all characters have happy endings, but their lives should have meaning if they are main characters because fictional characters represent something.
Characters, if done correctly are people that readers relate to and root for. Even if their story ends in tragedy, or become evil, their stories should serve a purpose other than shock value for the audience. This sort of flippant disregard for characters has begun to happen to those with decades of lore and generations of fans. Why is this? Do people really crave so much dark cynicism? Cynicism that is growing in entertainment is teetering on the verge of nihilism. Do we as a species really crave dark, depressing stories for the sake of realism? Some do obviously, but I have a hunch the number of people who do want that are fewer than expected.