I just had a really nice conversation with a writing friend of mine. We meet every Wednesday and comment on each other's work-in-progress. Each of us finds the other's comments helpful. My friend's comments certainly have helped me in my writing. I rather doubt that I would have been able to progress as far as I have, without her help. And I think she feels much the same way about my comments. It helps that we're both writing roughly similar stuff, though hers is quite different in tone than my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece.
Which brings me, naturally, to the subject of writing again. We are friends as well as partners in writing, and I sort of blurted out thoughts which I've had at the back of my mind for quite some time. In short, I told her I would never, ever, try my hand at writing literary fiction. The reason? Well, I have a rather instinctive dislike of "ambiguous" or "downbeat" endings, which are all too common in certain types of so called "literary" or "mainstream" fiction. Her reply was to quote something her brother --- who is a teacher --- said to her about this kind of fiction --- that the stories make the people who read them, feel better about their own situations because the characters the writers are writing about, are in situations that are so much worse.
Well, maybe. There is a notion, often but not always perpetuated by people who teach literature courses, that these "downbeat ending" type of novels are more "mature" and "realistic" and therefore "better" literature. They forget that this kind of literary snobbery didn't exist before about the middle of the 19th century, which is why, say, the works of Dickens barely qualify as "good" literature(there are exceptions, e.g. Great Expectations). Anything else is basically "for children" or even worse, just plain "trashy". For an example of this kind of thinking, see my comments on a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In other words, "good" writing had better reflect what some people think of as reality.
But is it? And does it matter? Well, you could say that happy endings are for fairy tales, and you would be partially right. But you would be partially wrong, too. First of all, I, as a reader, don't find "downbeat" stories very satisfying. They are just too --- downbeat. This may be due in part to my own personal makeup. I've suffered from at least one serious and long-lasting depressive episode which I am now, thankfully over. But I don't think very many people who perhaps haven't suffered from depressive episodes find such tales very satisfying, either. I think readers want conclusions that are relatively "neat". Now maybe Happily Ever After doesn't reflect reality, but it may make people feel more hopeful about their own life and problems. And an escape from these daily problems helps a lot of people, too. This is why the romance genre is so wildly popular. Romance isn't exactly my taste, but the stories have neat, wrapped-up endings quite unlike many people's often untidy lives.
Whatever their motivation, I quite agree with the majority of people, who like tidy endings to stories that suggest there is hope in the world. The protagonist can go through some really awful situations, as the two main protagonists in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece do, but they will come out ahead. There will be a Happy Ever After, though they live in quite horrible and seemingly "savage" times, though they were probably no worse than the times and places of people living right now. If anyone doesn't believe this, they should contemplate what the people of Iraq are going through. They, of all people, probably desperately want their own versions of Happy Ever After.
And that pretty much sums up why I won't be writing any "literary/mainstream" fiction. I really don't care if it's not considered "mature" writing by some critic with other sorts of tastes. They are certainly welcome to their own leanings; I would never stop them from reading or watching what they want to read or watch. But I, myself, insist on some sort of conclusion. I insist on some sort of Happy Ever After, because I want people to enjoy what they're reading. And when they turn that final page, I want them to leave with a little more hope in their hearts, than they began with.