"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Novel Should Break Your Heart

The only story that seems worth writing is a cry, a shot, a scream. A story should break the reader’s heart. – Susan Sontag 1933-2004

I’ve often wondered if I could write such a story. I have a hate/love relationship with sad endings. Should I challenge myself to write one? Would it make a masterpiece out of a cheesy, happily-ever-after? Have you written a story that Sontag would approve of? One that breaks your heart?

 As writers, should we be purveyors of escape at the end of the day?  Dealing out lighthearted romps, whodonits with neat endings, and happily-ever-afters, floating comfortably above controversy and reality? Or should we be shining a light into the dark corners of human existence and misfortune? There is no harder profession than writing and no higher calling than to tell the truth as we see it. But what is truth and do people want to read it? I don't want or even expect a happy ending, but I want a satisfying one.

Atonement (remember that one?) broke my heart. (I hated it!) Cormac McCarthy breaks my heart every time, yet I return to his stories again and again. I’m a glutton for tragedy, so why can’t I write one?  I fear it’s a flaw, the sign of an immature writer. And while it’s true, that I hate novels with sad endings, those are the ones that stick with me, the ones I can’t forget. So I wonder…do I have it in me to write the only story that seems worth writing? I fear it would break my heart.

9 comments:

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I don't sgree that the only stories worth telling should break your heart. Indeed, triumph in the face an adversity is an important theme in literature across many cultures.

I'm funny in real life but can't seem to wrte funny fiction. I've recognized that for me it's just not in the cards to be another P.G. Wodehouse.

So write what you're most comfortable with, not what you think Sontag would want you to write.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Steven,
I've read many novels with that theme. You're right. I can't write funny either. I like to be comfortable but not too comfortable:) Thanks, Steven.

Lydia Kang said...

Oh yes, I agree with Ms. Sontag! I don't think that necessarily means the ending should be sad, but yes, it should tug painfully at your heart in one way or another. At least for me!

Yvonne Osborne said...

Hi Lydia,
Yes, it's the tug at the heart we remember. Thanks.

Liza said...

I'm with Lydia. It can make you cry on page 93 and laugh on 203. A story works as long as it makes us feel, makes us sympathize and empathize...and it doesn't have to have a sad ending or a happy ending, just a real ending.

Jemi Fraser said...

When I was younger I could handle the sad endings better. As I get older and experience more of life, I'm much more drawn to the happy endings and the feel good stories ... and I'm okay with that :)

Wendy aka Quillfeather said...

I completely agree with Jemi. Give me a happy, or at least a satisfactory ending every time. Too much heartbreak in the world as it is.

Anthony Duce said...

I disagree that novels have to break hearts. I like your goal better. I do want to be satisfied. Mostly I want to be entertained and when the cover is open, to live within the story, and ignore my own reality for a while.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Liza,
Yes, a real ending, one that makes you close the book without a hole in your stomach. Thanks!

Jemi,
I think I can handle sad endings better now. Maybe my heart has hardened.

Wendy,
well isn't that the truth! That's what a lot of people want when they taken up a book.

Anthony,
That's it in a nutshell, I believe. Thanks.