My Dad’s a literature enthusiast and he’s very keen that I read some of the books that he’s enjoyed for their literary value. I’m not against literature in general, but it’s very much one of those things that I’m very happy exists as long as I don’t have to look at it.
Eventually however my Dad got me to read a book of short stories by a celebrated literary author, citing the writer’s beautiful mastery of the written word, and I agree the man can write like few others.
Yet the first story in the book made me so angry that I wanted to track the writer down and repeatedly punch him in the beanbag.
The story followed a young Englishman through some truly and utterly horrific war experiences, made us feel for him, empathise with him and root for his survival. Then, at the end of the story he gets PTSD, searches for a lost love (who he doesn’t find), gets bitterly depressed and dies alone.
I don’t ask that every story have a Hollywood ending, or even a happy ending however I do ask that writers leave the possibility of hope in their stories
If I want to feel like the world is a dark and terrible place I’ll watch the news. If I want to feel that humans are awful soulless morons I’ll read YouTube comments. Even if I’m reading a horror story I want to see some of the good things about human nature in the story. If there has to be a downer ending then I’m okay if the downer is caused by the villains triumphing or the heroes screwing up.
What I’m not okay with as a reader is if the story makes the character’s lives seem pointless, that they exist only to suffer and even then the suffering doesn’t mean anything. Again real life has more than enough needless suffering and depressing pointless death. I don’t need it in my fiction.
This is not true for everyone. Powerful and completely realistic stories do really appeal to a certain subset of readers, and because of this my anger at this particular author is totally irrational. I think I got angry because his story went against the entire reason I read, which I do purely for enjoyment. If I can be taught a deep and meaningful lesson along the way, that’s great, but at the end of your tale I want to feel glad I read it not like I want to fling myself off a bridge.
Does that make me a Philistine who doesn’t appreciate the mastery of some authors because they don’t give me the type of story that I want?
Yes, it does. Me and the vast majority of readers everywhere.
Always write the story you want to write, regardless of what I or anyone else says but be aware that if you have a hopeless ending you are going to put off most readers.
What do you think about downer endings in fiction? Why do you read? Let me know in the comments.