by Ben Grange, L. Perkins Agency
In my “I’d like the next” section of my MSWL page, I list three stories that to me, represent something impactful in human nature. And yeah, those three stories are in visual format, not the printed word, but if I had found their equivalent in books, those books would be on that list. I say that I want something dark, something weird, something powerful.
Darkness in storytelling, to me, has a deepness that I don’t think a lot of people understand—or at least, they don’t understand what I mean by it. I get a lot of people saying, “Oh, you mentioned you’re looking for something dark, I think you’ll like my book about [ritual satanic sacrifice, etc.].” Yes, that topic and topics like it are extremely dark, but the descriptions I usually see don’t get me nearly as emotionally involved with these stories as I need to be in order to ask to see more of the work.
Take a look at the example I use for what I mean when I say I’m looking for something dark—Over the Garden Wall. It’s a Cartoon Network mini-series, and I highly recommend it. In it, a boy named Wirt and his half-brother Greg are lost in the woods and try to find their way out but are pursued by a beast who wants to trap their souls in edelwood trees and burn their life forces to sustain his own. It’s creepy, dark, and emotionally rich. It explores the subconscious in a style similar to Alice in Wonderland. There are dark things in every subconscious, and those are the dark things I want to read about. The kind that haunt the part of you that you don’t explore while you’re awake.
Now, weird and quirky. It took me a long time to be able to admit to myself that I like weird things, and to start admitting it to others as well. I was a kind of closet nerd all through school, never really letting on that I liked weird things (and by association was weird myself). But there are a whole lot of people out there who also like weird stuff, and there’s a market for media that appeals to them. Take Adventure Time for example. Every episode is packed with the most bizarre stuff you’ll see on TV. Things don’t have to make sense in that show, and that’s okay. That’s probably why so many people love it. I like when things don’t make sense—it keeps me on my toes. However, that’s not to say that everything should be confusing. You still need to ground me in reality (i.e. we know that Jake is a dog and that Finn is a human).
I don’t think weirdness or darkness do much good if they’re not somehow linked to human emotions. When I watch Adventure Time, I get attached to what’s going on, and want Jake and Finn to succeed on their adventures. In Over the Garden Wall, I’m gripped by the blend of light-heartedness, family tension, creepiness, and darkness in each episode.
When I think of emotionally powerful stories (especially for children) that aren’t afraid to get into the nitty gritty of life, nothing comes to mind more than Kubo and the Two Strings. It deals with mental health, death, betrayal, self-doubt, coming-of-age, family dynamics, forgiveness, memory—so many elements that blend so well together and form a truly spectacular film. There are weird things about the film (a human transformed into a beetle, a human transformed into a monkey). There are dark things about the film (death of Kubo’s parents, creepy aunts who chase them across the world, a garden of eyes at the bottom of a lake (which is both weird and dark)).
So yes, like I said before, these stories are all told in a visual format. But I want to read something that combines the elements from all three of them and delivers a truly enthralling book. There’s a place in the literary world for something as quirky and weird as Adventure Time. There’s a place for something as dark and rich as Over the Garden Wall. There’s a place for something as powerful as Kubo and the Two Strings. And I want to be the one representing those kinds of books. Something dark, something weird, and something powerful.
P.S. It’s worth noting that all three examples I gave share the common thread of the fantastic.
You can see Ben's MSWL profile here: https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/ben-grange/