A place for the wicked – approaches to negativeness in novels

While it is true that frustrating your characters moves the narrative forward and holds the reader’s attention, does that have to entail going to extremes? In the struggle to gain and retain an audience, an increasing number of authors are tempted by the extreme. Blood splatters across the pages of their novels, screams echo between the words and the stench of evil wafts like a miasma through their story not to mention the gruelling psychological torture their characters are subjected to.

I am repulsed by such excessive or gratuitous violence in books and films. When the mistreatment of characters is so extreme, I have to close the book or stop the film. I do not want to ingest such unwholesome food and I certainly don’t want to write it. True, we are increasingly confronted with arbitrariness and violence, whether it be the actions of faceless institutions, the decisions of politicians, the excesses of ordinary people or the dictates of a deadly virus. But do the writings of authors need to reflect this tragic situation? And if they do, and this is probably the key point, must authors go into vivid, if not pornographic, details? Does such a laying bare of nastiness, if not relishing doing it, necessarily make the narrative any more real or gripping? It’s as if we are repeatedly crossing thresholds to higher levels of violence and ill will, both in real life and fiction. And, with that growing thirst for more, we are increasingly deadened to and accepting of the violence and evil we witness. In contrast, I plead for restraint, believing that unfettered depictions of badness only cultivate it further, making the unacceptable become the new normal. I bank on the ultimate triumph of creative forces in the face of attempts to hinder if not silence them, especially thanks to the emergence of exceptional young people.

In my aversion to such displays of nastiness, I am struggling to give a satisfactory place to all that is negative in Bursting with Life!, the novel I am currently writing. Here the problem is not the gaudy or gory depiction of violence or nastiness, but rather qualms about giving voice to such negativeness. Bursting is about the immense life force present in certain gifted people that drives them beyond themselves whether it be in art or performance or destruction. Those who are unable to give shape to that force can be driven mad.

My main character, the young Vint, like the title suggests, is bursting with life. So much so the world around him ripples with energy and takes on unexpected forms. His parents and carers have convinced him his hallucinations are a sign of madness. Repression is their sole remedy, seeking to rein in anything that can over stimulate and spark an attack. He is a willing prisoner in a grey world. Only when he escapes with Tara, a girl of his age, and meets her friends does he realise that what he sees may not be hallucinations but rather a gift he has. In the light of these new perspectives, he begins to lose his fear of being mad and discovers the richness of the world.

As the author of this story, I would have preferred to concentrate on the creative aspects of Vint’s character, glossing over the potential destructive facets. The greed and rapaciousness of those who seek to exploit his abilities was enough for me. But, rather like his carers, who condemn him to a world stripped of friends, colour, movement and music, so as an author, if I refuse the potential negativeness that goes hand in hand with his creativity, I risk condemning my story to limbo. The realisation that I can’t have one without the other, even though it may seem self-evident and despite the way forward remaining unclear, it is liberating. All of a sudden the world around me is brimming with life again and the story can move forward.

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