Friday, October 29, 2010

Literary Expression Constrained by "Nice?"

Free-form Friday

I recently read a piece in which some literary novelists complained that they were constrained by a market that wants "nice" or at least "likable" characters. Paraphrasing, they said, "Life isn't always nice. How can we show you what life is really like if we have to do 'nice?'"

My rhetorical question for those writers determined to show us life "as it really is," is why they don't put as much energy into painting incisive and nuanced portraits of the fact that life is often dull and boring?

It is a fact that life can be horrible. My deeper objection stems from a philosophical position that it doesn't have to be horrible. As we delve into our darker natures, are we seeing life as it has to be or life as it happens to be?

Two types of stories emerge when we get into these waters:
  • Ones that justify us in our conceits
  • Ones that challenge us to expand our horizons
I suspect the complaint that prompted this note comes from readers willing to go to dark places to expand their horizons if there are characters with whom they can identify (i.e., likable), and a story that ultimately holds out some shred of hope (i.e., "nice).

But my suspicion, as I mentioned earlier, stems from a belief that much of what happens to make life horrible is of our own doing; it is life as it happens to be, not life as it has to be and thus there is always hope.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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