“How come you always write such depressing characters?” someone asked me once.
They always ask this, because more than half of my characters have somehow decided to be depressing. I don’t always plan it out that way, but perhaps I’m averse to happy characters, or happy endings, or people who embody the sometimes joy of a life lived happily. Sure, there are many who go through personal hell to arrive at some semblance of heaven, or at least a limbo that can be achieved, as a waiting room for heaven. But there are many more who start off in depressing circumstances and end up in that selfsame place, the rest of life just a marker to say “I was here.”
I write about this latter group, for the most part. Or, more precisely, I tend to write about people who have had hopes and dreams, who have usually done something to make these hopes and dreams come true, but then, like the carrot, it stays forever ahead of their twitching noses.
“I write such depressing characters because to so many people life is depressing,” I usually say.
It’s true, too. My wife said this morning, “Let’s see what fresh horrors have sprung up in the world overnight.” It was a throwaway line, but not as “throwaway” as it seems at first blush. It’s sad that her statement really had no response to it, because it wasn’t a question. If you look for it, you will find it. Even if you don’t look for it, often it will find you, and there’s no cure for it.
“But you’re supposed to write for escape,” someone told me once.
I don’t subscribe to this theory. I write because these characters want their stories told, so I tell them, and I don’t editorialize. I let the reader do this. While, yes, books can be an escape for many a reader, the fact that I can weave together tales that can keep you on the edge of your chair should suffice for the entertainment factor. Why do you think Stephen King sells so many copies of his books? It’s an escape, sure, but it has to take you somewhere you can relate to, on some level. Otherwise, it’s so much gibberish, yes?
Sometimes I hate a particular character viscerally, on such a deep level that I can barely type out what they said or did, but often these characters become my favorites in the end. They are true to their basic selves, and they compromise for no one, not even me, their erstwhile creator. That’s a win in my book, even if my characters aren’t for everyone.
“Shouldn’t there always be a happy ending?” someone asked me once, and it echoes even now.
The simple answer is “No. No, there shouldn’t always be a happy ending. Life is not some present neatly wrapped with a bow on top. Life is not some bowl of cherries without pits. Life is blood, and guts, and deep insights that often come about through pain that makes you scream. That is life.” While I always have endings that wrap up the storylines, I also stay true to my characters throughout. The bad guy sometimes isn’t brought to justice. The good guy is never perfect. She doesn’t get to go off into the sunset, holding hands with her forever love.
After some reflection, I don’t write depressing characters after all. I write real characters, who readers react to on a deep level, because they hold up a mirror to what can be felt by everyone, depending on the circumstance.