It came to me this morning. All of a sudden like. It was something I wanted to remember, something I needed to remember because it was equally important to me as to the few customers who talked about it.
And in retail, we all know if one customer is thinking it and asking about it, there are ten more thinking about it and not asking about it. It’s the same thing in the classroom: if one student asks a question, you can bet there are three others who have the same question but for some reason don’t ask.
So here it is. I was asked this question by three or four readers at the Middle Musquodoboit craft show that took place in November 2013: Do you have any stories that are uplifting, that are positive?
The women made this comment while looking at my short story collection, Nova Scotia – Life Near Water. On the surface, the stories sounded very dark:
The Man Who Reads Obituaries: A man is lying in a hospital bed, waiting to die of cancer. To pass his final hours, he plays a game he calls Heaven or Hell.
Dancing in the Shine: A woman is trying to escape an abusive relationship. She feels trapped and doesn’t know where to turn. She is isolated from friends and family. Her parents died during Hurricane Juan. She is lost and feels hopeless.
Mutated Bloodlines: The floodwaters have made Nova Scotia an island. The main character lives alone and her brother wants her to move to ‘the mainland’ for her safety, but he has evil plans for her.
The Ocean Between Them: Two women are lost in the fog off the coast of Newfoundland. Will they survive or die of exposure, thirst and hunger?
Obviously on the surface these scenarios seem dark, depressing and sad. If I read a book that contained only sad, depressing material I would toss it. Life is tough enough without getting down about all the troubles a character is going through in a piece of fiction.
That doesn’t mean characters aren’t meant to suffer, but…if a young woman is raped, beaten, sold into slavery, drugged, raped again, her family murdered, her cat hung, her home destroyed and her left arm savagely removed…you get the picture…and her only pay-off is a piece of bread to eat or some moral victory, the book isn’t worth reading…in my opinion.
If a woman goes through all this, I want the bad guys deader than doornails, for her to find true love and for her to become queen of her own kingdom where she saves other women from suffering a similar ordeal.
In other words, the reward must equal the punishment. In my eyes, any book that doesn’t deliver this falls flat. The only time I forgive this is if it’s a series and the reward is given in the second book.
The character can lose hope in the story, but she must regain it or hold onto a slither to keep her moving forward. If there is no hope, there is no story…for me. Depressing stories are depressing, and I don’t need that in my life.
There’s been a movement in the past dozen or so years for books to be more depressing, more gritty, more hopeless. Don’t look for a reward to equal the suffering. All you’ll get are moral victories. Some of these hopeless stories have made their way into the classroom. I shiver at the thought. Feeding such hopelessness to a vulnerable age group can spell disaster.
Have you wondered why the young ones are walking around hopeless these days? No, you can’t blame it all on books, but books do play a role. These depressing novels also play a role in turning off readers. I know. I have one of those students in this house. She loves to read up-lifting books, ones that inspire and give hope. Sure the character’s life may be at risk; without drama and risk there’s not much plot. She doesn’t however enjoy reading school-assigned books because they are, as she puts it, all about death. They are depressing and very negative.
Anyways, back to the customers who want positive stories.
Is there anything positive in the stories contained in Nova Scotia – Life Near Water? Yes. Every story contains a positive vibe. My characters don’t always get the kingdom, but they do get rewarded for their troubles, the tortures I put them through. At the very least they are given hope that life will be better for them.
And sometimes, that’s all one needs: Hope.
Do you think about the rewards characters receive in stories for the tortures they endure? Have you heard similar comments from readers regarding this? Do they prefer more positive or negative stories?