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Dark Impressionism

Literary Dark Impressionism is a combination of impressionist narrative and realist dialogue. It explores the themes of Existential Isolation, Moral Ambiguity, Post-Multiculturalism, Post-Feminism, and Classical Romance.



  • Highly subjective narrative: first-person or third-person limited, always past-tense
  • The main character does all the thinking and talking, not the author
  • Expression before dialogue instead of dialogue attribution
  • Body language applies a layer of meaning to dialogue
  • Descriptions focus only on the main character's perception of meaningful details
  • Characters only have the names they absolutely need (sometimes just a title)
  • Chapters and chapter titles are not required; if there are chapters, they must not employ serial gimmicks like chapter-ending cliffhangers and clever titles
  • Context provides meaning
  • Plain, simple language
  • Narrative must be honest, straightforward, and modern:
    • No clever turns of phrase
    • No cliches
    • No references or reference humor
    • No homages
    • No clowning, peacocking, posturing, or provocation


  • No cheese -- dialogue and narrative must be real, speakable, believable
  • Real fighting:
    • Limited ammo
    • Lasting consequences for injuries and physical limitations
    • Realistic physics
  • No deus ex machina allowed
  • No plot holes or loopholes; systems of magic or science must be self-limited
  • Anger makes people weaker, not stronger
  • Pervasive uncertainty:
    • Conditions change before problems can be fully resolved
    • There is never enough reliable information to make perfect decisions
    • The only real, unchanging, unambiguous entity in the world is The Quest
    • New characters can appear at any time


Existential Isolation

  • Most characters are subtly isolated from society because of a tragic oversight or side-effect of The System
  • Every character has a dark secret that is never fully revealed
  • No visible central authority figure
  • Order is highly local -- town sheriff and small squad of constables, castle guards, private mercenaries / bodyguards
  • The story setting is always 20 or 30 years after The Golden Age or The Great Disaster
  • Simultaneous decline and advancement, both literal and metaphorical, micro and macro; you must lose what is familiar and comfortable in order to cure the malaise of entropy
  • Belief / faith in The System is the path to madness and self-destruction
  • Prosperity is an unsustainable illusion that requires unethical behavior to achieve and maintain
  • Everything has a purpose, but it's never truly fulfilled, and often ends up abandoned
  • Nothing ever works as imagined / anticipated / planned
  • Physical space is either highly occupied, or abandoned and run-down. There is never any usable, undeveloped space
  • Everything is owned, but nothing is stewarded

Moral Ambiguity

  • Success is impossible without sacrificing morals; you cannot go "by the book" and win, but if you get caught breaking the rules you'll lose
  • The highest virtue is completing The Quest
  • No pure heroes or unreasonably evil villains
  • Heroes are ethical by default, ruthless when threatened with failure or hemmed-in by the rules
  • Villains are unethical by default, empathetic and honest in the face of deadly danger
  • Bad actions have predictable and reasonable consequences (revenge, retaliation, ostracism)


  • "Culture of origin" is less important than "culture of context"
  • The more strongly a character associates with a culture or group identity, the more corrupt and immoral they are
  • Only the most unscrupulous people have the resources to be racist or sexist; in general, everyone is valuable, everyone is needed
  • No character stereotypes, though characters can leverage implied stereotypes to gain an advantage or make a joke
  • There are no "stupid" people -- everyone's intellectual balance is different but equally powerful, each person's perspective is unique and valuable
  • Survival requires cooperation, collaboration, and diplomacy


  • Men struggle with the paradoxical expectations, requirements, and limitations of modern masculinity
  • Women are independent but not aloof; externally armored, internally vulnerable; perceptive, skilled, capable

Classical Romance

  • Love is not an external magical force, it's an internal spark of inspiration that fuels the ultimate fantasy of building something together (partnership, team, or family) that is greater than the sum of the individuals
  • With or without sex, romance is always the convergence of adventure and love