Imagination is a wonderful thing. It’s what allows us to create stories, characters, even whole new worlds in our heads. But, as in the case of Anne Shirley and the haunted wood, it can sometimes get the better of us.
Today I was opening a pack of bananas and felt a slight pain in my finger. Did I conclude, as turned out to be the case, that the packaging had given me a slight cut? No. I immediately assumed I’d been bitten by some kind of tropical spider and would die a horrifying death within minutes. I quite often imagine dying. And I’m not bothered about the death itself, but about the reaction of my family, which also plays out in great detail in my head. If it wasn’t an overdone subject now, I could have so many stories about grief.
Perhaps this is why I don’t like to read sad stories. There’s so much sadness in the world already and I’m perfectly capable of imagining my own, thank you very much. I’m already an expert on worst case scenarios. For me, reading is an escape. I don’t want to be made to dwell on the morbid. I’m not into ‘the feels’ that so many fandoms go for. I want stories where only a reasonable number of people die. Stories about hope, joy and faith. And that’s what I want to write too. I’m sorry if that makes me a wuss. But I’ll deal with the harsh realities in life, not fiction please. Fiction can be about anything you want. You can end it any way you choose. And I choose not to be made miserable. A compelling story doesn’t have to be sad. Pride and Prejudice ends well for everyone. So does Jane Eyre. P G Wodehouse created a world in which nothing bad ever happens, and we go back to it again and again.
I’m not saying no one should ever die in books. My favourite author, Louisa May Alcott, includes just enough sadness to be realistic, but punctuates it with more cheerful stuff. Dickens generally kills one or two characters, then lets everyone else live happily ever after. Even Wuthering Heights treats death in a fairly matter of fact way without unnecessary lingering. And everyone who dies in that is odious anyway, in my opinion.
It’s all about balance, I suppose. What’s your preference?