I'm writing a somewhat depressive story that has no comic reliefs and no happy scenes/moments (except the ending and one or two in the beginning). The only scenes that aren't sad or negative are the romantic scenes (although it becomes sad when the reader knows the story around it), the action scenes and the neutral ones (neither sad, nor happy).

However, I feel that leaving it that way would be so depressive that the reader would become overwhelmed and put it down.

So, can a depressive story still be completable without reliefs, or are they necessary for a good story?

  • 1
    Why is your story so relentlessly grimdark? What are you hoping to accomplish? Feb 11, 2017 at 1:49
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    @LaurenIpsum Well, I'm not really sure, I'm just letting the story flow and telling the protagonist's life story, which is a depressive one by its own self.
    – Yuuza
    Feb 11, 2017 at 2:58
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    If the point is a depressive story then the more depressiveness the more your goal is achieved. If the goal is to keep a reader reading rather than depressing them then you need breaks of comic relief. Feb 11, 2017 at 8:30

3 Answers 3


I think you should make a very clear distinction between tragedy and futility. Classically literature has recognized both tragedy and comedy as essentially heroic forms. In a tragedy, the hero strives for a goal only to be overcome by opposing forces, or by their own fatal flaw, but still they strive, they follow the heroic path, they try.

If there is "comic relief" in a tragedy, it is not really to lighten the mood. It is more of a counterpart, a form of irony. It is also very human. We do laugh in the face of danger and despair. As my mother's family liked to say, "you have to laugh or you'd cry." But the reader does not really need relief in a true tragedy because there is still a heroic arc. Even the tragic hero, the doomed hero, strives as if there were hope, and there is a moral dignity in that that draws us in.

The post moderns, however, indulge in something quite different: futility. The do not believe in the heroic hope, in the moral dignity of tragedy. For them life is simply futile, and so they write stories of futility, of unrelenting bleakness and cynicism. Can there be comic relief in such a story? I'm not sure. What would there be to laugh at? If there were comic elements, presumably they would be a comedy as cynical as the despair that drives the whole story. It might be comic, but would it provide relief?

Which of these, tragedy and futility, is depressive? Both, perhaps, but in very different ways. In a tragedy we are depressed because hope was not fulfilled in a particular story arc. But this is not a denial of hope. It speaks to its uncertainty, not to it futility. One may come out of tragedy with hope, even with joy, and certainly with an affirmation of the dignity of the human spirit. But with futility there is none of this. Futility is inherently and fundamentally and comprehensively depressing. It discovers no hope, no dignity, no affirmation of anything except futility.

The depression of tragedy is relieved by its positive affirmations. The depression of futility is only confirmed by it lack of affirmations. Comedy, I think, can only corroborate the general effect of these two genres.


I would say it all depends on your idea of the book. If you want your book to be depressing all the way, then you are good, and your story can be a very good one.

However, I personally don't appreciate books like that. To me, a book should have both up and down moments. Even if your characters are (for example) locked at Nazi concentration camp, there must be something that brightens their day. It could be memories, or plans that they know never going to be fulfilled, or bright bird sitting on a tree - anything would help.


Please distinguish between writing for yourself (e.g. a journal) and writing for readers. If you want to writ for readers, then imagine your target readers as you write, and communicate something to them.

My first target readers were the members of my book club.

You just have to find an imaginary (or real) target reader that makes sense for you.

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