Why I Write Sad Stories

Why I Write Sad Stories

by Guest Blogger May 31, 2018 6 Comments

By Kevin Fitton

Every now and then someone will find out that I’m a writer and ask me what I’m working on. In response, I’ll describe some scenario of betrayal and human failure, and I’ll get this look that says, “Yuck, why did you choose such an ugly thing to write about?” On a few occasions, I’ve been asked directly: “Why do you write such sad stories?”

The standard response works pretty well to stifle my questioner. The world is a sad place, and the job of the artist is to hold up a mirror to humanity, so it is inevitable that we writers will end up telling sad stories.

Lately, though, I’ve started wondering if this is really a satisfactory answer. At the very least, I think it’s incomplete. Yes, the world can be terribly sad. Every day seems to unearth yet another story of violence and abuse, repeating the never-ending pattern of the powerful stealing from the disadvantaged their few remaining possessions (whether that’s their money, their health, or their dignity). But there is another side to that coin, and the truth is that you don’t have to do a lot of searching to find the beauty in this world. You just have to have your eyes open.

Increasingly, it seems to me that the choice of what a writer decides to write about is just that: it’s a choice. And while I would never argue that we should oversimplify the world or ignore its brutality, I also think it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of telling the sad stories, while ignoring the possibility of redemption.

The reason for this is pretty simple: the literary community is deeply skeptical of anything that possesses the least hint of sentimentality. The easiest way to dismiss an artist is to describe their work as saccharine. A friend of mine, who is a remarkable poet, chooses in her work to focus largely on the concept of beauty. Several years ago, she attended the workshop at Breadloaf and was told, repeatedly, by everyone, that she wasn’t writing the right kind of poetry. Her poetry was too nice. (She’s gone on to publish two fantastic collections since her stint at Breadloaf, while ignoring this advice.) And it’s the fear of this sort of rejection that holds most of us in line, keeping us centered on the wide road toward literary approval.

I’m not a person who responds well to peer pressure. The fact that I’ve written as many sad stories as I have is at least partially because I’ve been pushing back against the expectation that, as a pastor, I would write nice Christian stories with happy endings. Though I now find myself equally hostile toward the idea that my stories can’t be redemptive and still be truly literary.

I also think it’s vital that artists continue asserting themselves against norms and expectations, even when (perhaps especially when) those norms and expectations are created within the literary community. We are not here to please or conform, but to confront.

Still, I’m not really interested in a writing life that is reacting to one thing or another. I don’t want my writing to be shaped by others’ expectations. Ultimately, I want to be a writer who chooses to tell the stories I think are important and talk about the things that I believe in, even when those things are unpopular, or when I face the possibility that I won’t be taken seriously. No one worth their salt ever escaped criticism, so it’s a wonder we spend so much time and energy trying to avoid it.

As a person of faith, I see two main avenues for my writing. The first is telling stories that describe the nature of human sinfulness. By this I mean investigating the systematic nature of our human failings—the way our selfishness makes us blind to witnessing the humanity in the other. These are sad stories that feel entirely necessary to me. We are masters at disguising sin, wrapping it up in bright paper, and pretending it’s something else. And so the work of culling through the human experience, finding the bad boards and throwing them to the curb—this is important.

And then there’s redemption. People have a difficult time believing in redemption. We become so accustomed to watching things fall apart that it can be surreal when, somehow, broken parts are miraculously bonded together. The task of convincing our readers in the possibility of redemption is a difficult one, but this doesn’t make it less worthwhile. This is what writers are all about: finding the hard truth, the difficult truth.

Who, then, is going to take it on? Who is going to take the huge risk of writing books that rely on the idea that broken things can be repaired and broken relationships restored?

Count me in.

 ---------

Kevin Fitton holds an MFA from Bennington College. He has published short fiction in a number of literary magazines, including Limestone and Jabberwock. His short story, “Crashums,” was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award and was published in the Broad River Review. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Michigan, where he teaches writing, builds furniture, and is the music director at Sycamore Creek Church in Potterville.




Hi there, Writing From the World's Weight might be for you, too.



Photo by Kai Oberhäuser on Unsplash




Guest Blogger
Guest Blogger

Author



6 Responses

Sonya Schryer Norris
Sonya Schryer Norris

June 15, 2018

I think you’re right that we need to be willing to address both failure and redemption. Indeed, to talk about the fullness of the human experience you have to be willing to address both sides of the coin, whether you put it in religious or secular terms. Life is rarely all good, or all bad, and our response to what we’re dealt varies depending on many factors. When we seek out and write about the times that human beings dig deep and rise to the difficult occasions it can raise the level of the conversation in ways that not just make you feel better while you’re reading a piece, but inspire you to respond to real life in ways you can be proud of.

Lyle Enright
Lyle Enright

June 08, 2018

I’ve been working my way through John Caputo’s “The Folly of God” this week, and I have to say, I think you’ve said more in a few paragraphs than he says in 100 pages. For him, it all comes down to “in credere,” that the wound in every Creed is its growing unbelievability, making God and redemption increasingly irrelevant. You see the same thing, but from a whole other angle: yes, redemption is hard to believe for a world that doesn’t think it needs saving. But this is exactly why we need stories— to make the impossible possible.

Kevin Fitton
Kevin Fitton

June 03, 2018

Thank you for your responses to my article. I like how you put it, Laurel. “Redemption is the ultimate plot twist.” It’s just a challenge to set it up properly and make it work. And I like the idea, Sophronia, that you are always writing about love and redemption. It’s a worthy goal.

Laurel
Laurel

June 01, 2018

Very well said! It’s easy to fall into one “camp” or the other and both kinds of stories are needed. To me, writing about beauty is a way of testifying to the love underpinning the whole world. Writing about redemption is the ultimate plot twist and gives us hope.

Judith Dupree
Judith Dupree

June 01, 2018

And the saddest and most beautiful Story in human history? The story you over and over, bit by bit, on Sunday mornings.
Keep on keeping on, Kevin. We need you. tell

Sophfronia Scott
Sophfronia Scott

May 31, 2018

Count me in too, Kevin. I’ve come to accept the fact that, in one way or another, I’m always writing about love and redemption. I’ve stopped resisting—they are worthy topics to tackle.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up. We don't allow comments that are disrespectful or personally attack our blog writers.


Also in Ruminate Blog

Faith and Femininity
Faith and Femininity

by Ananda-mayi dasi December 13, 2018

When I watched my ponytail fall to the floor, I was surprised by the lurch in my stomach. The definite markings of my femininity would soon be swept into the forest, leaving uncertainty: How would I embody femininity now that I had chosen to withdraw from traditional feminine expectations? 

Read More

The Grace of Waiting and Its End
The Grace of Waiting and Its End

by Sophfronia Scott December 11, 2018 1 Comment

There’s a magic that comes of waiting and watching—a magic only apparent when the waiting is over. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Queen of Waiting. I have no problem waiting out anything, even if it takes years. I have a patience born of soap operas.

Read More

Small Miracles & Happy Dances
Small Miracles & Happy Dances

by Brianna Van Dyke December 07, 2018

With each order that comes through we seriously do a happy dance knowing that the good work of our contributors will be seen and held by more hearts and our little nonprofit is earning the funds that will help us start the new year strong. Our staff is deeply encouraged as we witness each intimate act of one human sharing something they love with another. 

Read More