Lately here on WU, there have been a number of generous and uplifting posts designed to keep us busy, boost our spirits and relieve our worry. I greatly appreciate those posts, don’t get me wrong, but let me ask you this: Doesn’t that strike you as ironic?
The fiction that we write, edit, represent and publish is designed to do exactly the opposite; that is, to fill protagonists—and readers—with many forms of anxiety. Indeed, anxiety is the essential fuel of plot, scene and micro-tension. It is the elemental state of main characters. Even theme can be expressed as questions needing answers or issues that oppress.
Alarm, fright, terror, horror, uneasiness, apprehension, disquiet, dismay, distress, panic, stress, agony, foreboding, misery, suspense, shivers, wariness, worry, doubt, misgiving, mistrust, suspicion, shock, confusion, disillusionment, upset, letdown, fear, consternation, trembling, revulsion, concern, pain, unhappiness, alienation, abhorrence, agitation, phobia, obsession, bad vibes, sinking feeling, cold sweats, quaking, dolefulness, hopelessness, surrender, nervousness, fearfulness, hatefulness, trauma, pity…and, hey now, my all-time favorite existential dread…are all desirable conditions. In fiction, I mean.
To be sure, the intent of fiction is not always so dire. We may wish the fiction that we write to delight, uplift and inspire. However, you cannot get to those positive effects without first putting protagonists and readers in a negative state. What causes delight, uplift and inspiration is emerging from fear, the relief of anxiety.
Thus, there is an upside to anxiety. It’s good to feel bad…in writing, and reading, fiction that is. Which, in turn, makes this period a boom time for us, right? I mean, worldwide contagion? Do the conditions for writing fiction get any better? During wartime, maybe? Okay, seriously, when the stress and worry in our lives is unbearable, we of course need to counteract it. We need to whistle in the dark, laugh at ourselves, toast to small pleasures, pray, appreciate every day, and draw together in mutual support as we do here on WU. All of that is psychologically and spiritually sound, but today I’m not talking about keeping ourselves together but taking our protagonists apart.
And really, for fiction writers what is more fun than that? [Read more…]