What Doesn’t Happen

Almost all the time, novels – and their authors – are judged by how they depict what happens in their work, and how the protagonists and possibly the antagonists act, either to further or thwart the action. Sometimes, the protagonist must accomplish something against great odds, and sometimes he or she must thwart the diabolical plans of the antagonist.

In real life, however, sometimes there’s a third possibility – that an evil is occurring slowly and inexorably and that very few people are aware of that evil or that they’re aware of the events and don’t see them as evil. As a result, no one does anything, or too few people do anything.

Now, there are more than a few novels where the protagonist appears in such situations and attacks and miraculously and quickly brings the evil and the evildoers to an end. In history and real life, however, that usually doesn’t happen… and when it does, it usually takes time and/or a war or two and also, usually, very few people are pleased with the results.

In the first century or so after the creation of the Islamic faith, women played notable and powerful roles, but as the clerics (male) became more powerful, women became less so and were marginalized on a continuing basis… and few if any men with power did anything about it, certainly nothing that reversed that trend. Now, personally, that strikes me as a growing evil, but it clearly didn’t bother the men of the faith.

Certainly, the western European conquest of North America didn’t seem in the slightest evil to the conquerors even though the results were effectively genocidal as far as Native Americans were concerned, and, from what I’ve seen, even to this day, more sympathy and publicity goes to the descendants of slaves than to Native Americans.

But to write a novel where evil grows… and is either praised or ignored? There are some – such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, 1984, and others – but, face it, how many books as dark as those do most people want to read, especially in stressful times? Most readers want excitement and uplifting stories.

The “problem” with uplifting stories is that they can either become wish-fulfillment escapes or create the idea that change for the better is the norm and that it’s not that hard to accomplish.

So what’s a writer to do?

6 thoughts on “What Doesn’t Happen”

  1. Tim says:

    That was an interesting post. I examined my own reading preferences; they are all escapist: art, archaeology, history, science and SF.

    Friends however, read political biographies and Booker Prize entries which all seem depressing to me on the few occasions I have decided to step out of my comfort zone.

  2. Lourain says:

    If I want to be depressed I read the news.

  3. MRE says:

    Interesting thought. I think it’s harder to write such stories, but there are a few out there.

    I would add Foundation by Asimov, It by Stephen King, Legacy of Heorot (iffy because the threat is a biological one that is left to grow until a sudden stampede situation occurs, and survival is the simple solution, if a difficult one.), Deathworld by Harry Harrison is another good one. The escapist part of such stories usually gives the protagonist an outsized role, but there are a few fiction plots that try to take on the subtler societal rot that can go unchallenged.

    Maybe you should try writing a horror novel? Now that I think of It by King and even Salem’s Lot, they have themes of subtle evils slowly eating and eroding societ, with blind acceptance being the norm. I’d love to read one by you if you’re thinking of taking on a darker subject matter! Though, from your examples, it might be political horror, which may be a tougher row to hoe. Or worse, too realistic!

    1. Wine Guy says:

      Mr. Modesitt already has published “The Green Progression.” It’s pretty close to what you are wanting.

      1. MRE says:

        Thanks for this recommendation, I’ll check it out. Wasn’t aware it existed!

  4. Joe says:

    The problem is that evil is in the eye of the beholder.

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