Thursday, July 14, 2011
Glass Half Full
There have been a number of occasions in the last few years where I've described my novel in progress and had people say that it sounds a bit depressing. Depressing is a word that I often hear associated with literary novels, as it happens.
But depressing is not what I'd call my novel, and it's interesting that I often disagree with that assessment of other books, too. Maybe it's my individual perspective- I'm a glass half full kind of girl- that pushes me to see the positive in every negative; and that, in fact, is specifically what I'm aiming for in my own story.
I was watching my favourite TV show yesterday- Air Crash Investigation (which should be your final proof that I'm just weird, if you needed it). Weird or not, I love it, and yesterday's episode was a perfect example of what I like about stories that do feature loss, tragedy and heartbreak, but end with hope.
The featured accident was Air Canada Flight 797, which made an emergency landing in Cincinnati in 1983 with a fire raging behind the cabin walls. Though the plane landed safely, only half the people on board were able to escape before the oxygen drawn in through the now-open exits created a flashover, and the plane erupted into flames. Tragically, 23 of the 46 people on board died in the conflagration. There's nothing good about the accident itself, besides the fact that 23 people were lucky enough to escape with their lives.
But what fascinates me about this particular incident is the ongoing impact it has on current airline safety. As a result of the things that occurred during the accident, several safety measures were introduced that are now standard. Just as one example, you know those little strip lights that run along the floor between the seats to show you the path to the exits? They exist specifically because of this accident. I've seen numerous other incidents and accidents described where those lights saved people's lives.
And so the unexpected positive impact of such a negative event is still going on.
My novel is set during the First World War, in a time where a generation of young men lost their lives, and a nation lost innocence. I'm using my three different characters to illustrate the impacts, and each of them carries one more than the other- Len, who returns from the war with disabling wounds, represents the physical damage of war. Bill, who comes home barely able to function due to shell-shock, represents the mental damage. And Kit, the girl who waits for them both, represents the emotional damage felt on the home front.
People die, people lose everything. People cheat, deceive, turn to drink and violence, give up- I'm representing everything negative in human nature.
And yet I'm also representing everything hopeful- new life, the unconditional love of a child, the strength of friendship, forgiveness, unexpected strength.
And without the negatives, I wouldn't be able to represent the positives. All the growth comes as a result of the adversity.
So, these are the reasons why I love books like Atonement, Room, Bereft, The Hunger Games, and many others- books that encompass the tragedies of human nature, but always leave room for the hope that is, ironically, also such an intrinsic part being human. I've noticed that not everyone sees the same level of hope that I do in the same stories, so maybe it is just my rose-coloured glasses at play. I should probably have a crack at a book like The Road to see how positive I feel at the end of that.
In the meantime, what's your personal threshold? Are you happy to read about tragedy and heartbreak as long as you're left with something to hope for at the end? Do you even need that last bit of light, or are you right into the apocalyptic stuff? Or do you find yourself switching off once the poor characters have been through the wringer and back more times than is strictly reasonable?
What keeps your reading (and writing) glass half full, or half empty?