I’ve been reflecting recently on how negativity and critique gives us a false sense of power.
We feel important, in control, or somehow better than others if we can discern the negative or the bad in a situation.
Perhaps we feel others will regard us as clever if we weigh up our opinions and come at something from a nature of talking it down or choosing to see the ugly side.
Again in fiction, a lot of the time, authors feel important, talented, worthwhile if they pick up a stone and instead of inspecting the visible surface, they display the readers the ugly underside with the gross bugs and dirt.
We become people who prove our talent and ‘depth’ by not just writing about negative or difficult issues – because doing that is actually worthwhile – but getting our hands dirty in them.
The reason this bums me out is that the world is probably dark enough already. And when you read a book that is like…
This story is about this girl who lives in this ULTRA controlling dystopian society (because we’re teaching people what they should look out for in the world politically to stop us from all turning into North Korea, apparently)
AND the girl’s family has this issue (emotional or physical)
AND their house sucks and they are super poor
AND she has to eat squirrels
AND then this bad thing happens too
AND she’ll probably have a bout of something to do with mental illness/instability/conflict with something external that seeks to control her like a bad relationship, drugs, or whatever.
The unfortunate thing is as much as I’m being pretty sarcastic here, that sounds like the plot line to the wave of books that manifested following the Hunger Games when dystopian rose into popularity.
But it isn’t just dystopian, it’s everything. Here in New Zealand, a supposed award winning book explored some pretty unsavory ideas that personally, I don’t think any fourteen year old should be dwelling on.
I mean at the end of the day does fiction have to be like this to be smart, deep, talented or worthwhile?
My answer? Probably not.
I think you can discuss or present ideas without digging deep inside of them and getting your hands filthy with the ins and outs.
To some extent as well, I think the extreme dwelling in horrible ideas and things and circumstances is a lazy author’s way of trying to generate an emotional response from their audience.
You can write about difficult subjects, but in a way that respects the subject not puts it in a frame for us all to observe and ooh and aah about because to some extent that just glorifies it.
As I lay in bed thinking about this last night I was reminded of Pollyanna and Heidi. Both were stories I found really, really emotionally touching when I was little, but I think both have a commonality of dealing with difficult subjects respectfully.
In Heidi we find the social isolation of her grandfather, dealing with subjects such as loneliness, forgiveness, jealousy, and no one rolls their eyes when it does end happily ever after.
Pollyanna suffers a level of criticism for her optimism and positivity. Yes she lives in a difficult world, and like Heidi we find her coping with loneliness and she suffers at the hand of intentional unkindness, then of course he ultimate accident where she loses the use of her legs. Again this book is ideal, but it is meaningful and beautiful, and it respects difficult subjects.
I just wanted to challenge us as authors not to opt for the easy option of slathering layer and layer of bad and sad, and mad on top of our narratives. There is already a lot of bad in the world, why perpetuate it?
Challenge yourself to actually write something meaningful, that yes, deals with difficulty, but in a way that respects the issue, rather than turning into some cheapened form of entertainment.
In my opinion at least, for my children in the future, I’d much rather they look to Heidi or Pollyanna has role models than Katniss or Bella or whatever.
We need to look at what we are building, and become good at our craft, rather than playing puppeteer with the perceptions and emotional development of young people.
Anyway, things to think about.