This guide provides a little recipe for Dark Academia novels. This type of novel tends to have a few key characteristics which you can use to evoke a certain atmosphere in your own writing.
What’s a Dark Academia Novel?
Dark Academia began as a 2010s internet ‘aesthetic’, but the term has also evolved to describe a certain type of media.
Dark Academia novels are characterised by a focus on educational institutions as well as their often Gothic, melancholic aesthetic. Examples include The Secret History by Donna Tartt, If We Were Villains by M.L.Rio, and Babel by R.F.Kuang.
Dark Academia Novel Settings
Dark Academia settings often revolve around academic institutions, libraries, and places focused on learning. Examples include:
- Boarding school
- Ballet school
- Historical landmark
- Manor home
- Art school
Dark Academia Novel Storylines
Common storylines include:
- Secret Society: A protagonist discovers or is invited into a secret society within an academic institution.
- Mystery Uncovered: A mysterious event, crime, or historical secret is uncovered within an academic setting. Characters race to solve it.
- Intellectual Rivalry: Two or more characters engage in intense academic rivalry. Often romantic, using the ‘rivals to lovers’ trope.
- Haunted Academia:The academic institution or its surroundings are haunted by a dark history or by actual supernatural forces.
- Consequences of Ambition: Characters driven by ambition make morally ambiguous choices in the pursuit of success.
Dark Academia Character Tropes
Popular tropes in dark academia novels include:
- The Prodigy: An academically gifted character driven by a deep passion for knowledge.
- The Outsider: A character who is alienated from the academic or social elite of the book’s setting. They often serve to challenge established norms.
- The Mentor: Usually a professor, this figure often guides and challenges the protagonist. They may have sinister motives, or not.
- The Achiever: This character is driven to do often unethical things by a relentless pursuit of success and recognition.
- The Aristocrat: DA books often feature an aristocratic/rich character, often to tie into themes of how class and wealth intersect with academic accomplishment.
Dark Academia Novel Elements
Dark Academia is known for its distinctive aesthetic. The following elements are often associated with Dark Academia novels:
- Classical music
- Greek statues
- Secret societies
- Oil paintings
- Secret passages
- Handwritten letters
- Old books
- Neoclassical buildings
You don’t need to include any of these in your novel if you don’t want to. While they contribute to the ‘feel’ of DA media, feel free to deviate and put a fresh spin on it.
Dark Academia Novel Themes
Common themes include:
- Disintegration of the Academic Elite: A lot of DA novels discuss inherent problems within academia, often leading to the breakdown of established academic orders.
- Intellectual Pursuit: A central idea is almost always the pursuit of knowledge.
- Alienation: DA protagonists are often outsiders. They often struggle with the exclusivity of their academic environment.
- Ambition and Sacrifice: A recurring theme within DA media is characters making dark sacrifices in the pursuit of success.