Sticks and Stones
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
I wonder at the false bravado of the person who made up this hollow and obviously false statement. Words have power. I can forget over time what I see, but words I read or words I hear go down deep and alter who I am. Words stay forever, changing, sculpting, re-creating who and what we are.
Words can offer disillusionment, discouragement, despair, fear, hopelessness; or words can offer encouragement, strength, vitality, hope, faith. As writers we can choose what to do with our words, what result we desire to leave with our readers, what reaction we want them to have. Do we believe the world is a hopeless place and nothing we do matters? Do we believe that in spite of the horror or difficulties there are still things worth believing in, worth pursuing, and holding on to?
As readers we can chose which words we listen to, which words will fashion and mold us into better people, different people. Once I wrote a novel where the heroine dies, not on a whim, or to raise the tension, or make the reader “feel” something. Her death was “fore-ordained,” it was integral to the story with deep threads woven throughout and enough clues to foreshadow the ending so the reader didn’t arrive at her death with the breathless shock of a sudden departure, a “What? Why? Where did this come from?” The feeling that life was going along smoothly and everything would turn out alright until a sudden accident, like a drunk driver out of nowhere, deprived the character and reader of life.
There is a way of writing death scenes that leaves the reader sad, but not hollow. That allows a reader to see into the depths of the character’s soul and believe in the necessity. Unfortunately too many of today’s books miss the mark. The reader perceives the shallowness of the character’s death, the forced manipulation of events simply to make a point, or grab a headline. It is a cynicism that is all to prevalent in today’s world of books.
I am not a cynic. I believe in happy ever afters, even in the aftermath of difficult situations or unpleasantness. I don’t read books for “realism;” that’s something I deal with everyday. I read books to escape, to enjoy, to find something worthwhile to believe in again. If a book can’t deliver that, then I have no reason to pick up another by the same author. And if I’ve spent time reading a trilogy only to be disappointed at the end, then I’m left resenting the author, as well.
If I live my life believing that life is worthwhile, that in spite of the darkness all around us there is light, and strength, and hope, then my writing ought to reflect that belief as well. I have a responsibility to my readers to show them there is something worth living for and to leave them better people at the end of my novels. I don’t want hollow readers, I want strong readers who can learn to believe in themselves, to believe in others, to be inspired.
Life does have happy endings, even if the circumstances aren’t.