What makes dark fantasy different from other fantasy?

Donation Pledge Alert: This month, I am donating at least 20% of my book sales to the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Subscribe to my mailing list to follow my progress (link below) or go to my Books page to help out.

Yesterday I was interviewed by Joshua Robertson for his YouTube podcast. I was really surprised when he told me that other than himself, I was the first author to be on his show who self-identifies as a "dark fantasy author". I would have thought there would be at least one or two before me.

For the viewers at home, he asked me to describe what makes dark fantasy writing different from other fantasy writing. Since this wasn't the first time I got this question, I thought it would be helpful to post about what dark fantasy is here as well.

The short answer

The blood.

Dark fantasy tends to contain more violent scenes than your average fantasy read. It's a little simplistic to say that dark fantasy is all about the blood however. It's much more nuanced than that. So...

The longer answer

Dark fantasy stories tend to be set in an overall darker world than your average fantasy read.

Middle Earth, for example, was not very dark as a world. Yes, Mordor was dark as hell, but the rest of the world wasn't really, and the Shire definitely wasn't.

Cathell (my world), however, is dark through and through. It is violent and full of many dark things, like swords that drain your life, necromancy, cannibalism, and races and creatures that are just as likely to try to kill you as to say hello.

Something dark seems to lurk around every corner. Not even children are guaranteed safe passage.

Dark fantasy stories tend to bring in elements of horror.

Into the Darkness has been described by some as Lord of the Rings meets Stephen King's It. I grew up reading Stephen King, Clive Barker, and other horror authors. When I was writing Into the Darkness, and it took on a sudden turn toward horror, I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. I really liked the way the book has a slow build in the tension and then the reader is smack in the middle of a scene that works well in any good horror movie.

Aeryn and Theo have just fled the Black Caverns and whatever came out of them. They thought they escaped it, but the next morning dawns dark. Too dark for a normal dawn, and something bitter hangs on the air. Aeryn quietly readies her horse while keeping an eye on the woods around them. A branch snaps nearby, but there's nothing there...

A healthy dose of violence + some (or a lot of) horror = dark fantasy.

Sign up for my mailing list to get the first six chapters of Into the Darkness, if you're still unclear on what dark fantasy is. Dark fantasy is one of those things that you know when you read it.