"a certain trepidation"

Whenever I mention to someone that I am writing a novel, the question, 'What is it about?' always comes up.
I think people tend to respond to my answer in one of two ways:
  1. A mix of excitement and surprise [...]
  2. A somewhat discouraging wince. They too give a look of surprise like the previous category, but it's a different kind of surprise. It's one from which I sense a certain trepidation.
-From How people react posted 1/11/15
I have spent time thinking about whether the novel I'm writing is too miserable and/or too critical.

I think that our perception of books is partly influenced by what we want from them. Some people seek a means of escape. Some desire the indulgence of an intimate access into someone else's life. Some want to be taught and/or to learn. Some want to be thrilled and entertained. We might want a combination of these things. 

I remember in secondary school, I studied GCSE English Literature. As a class we read Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The novel tells the story of a group of pre-adolescent boys stranded on a tropical island and awaiting rescue.


Lord of the Flies, 1990 film. The boys end up setting fire to their island.
However, far from being a whimsical island adventure story for children, the novel depicts the descent of the boys into lower and lower standards of morality. The children bully, steal and even kill each other. The little British boys become tribal; their darkest instincts, no longer so restrained, holding the reins.

Now a very common response to the book, which is so bluntly critical of human nature (I mean, these were children for goodness sake!), is to find it highly depressing, but I was actually blown away by it! It seemed to dwarf the other books I had read up until that point in the gravity of its message (granted, there are bound to be books I had read before then that had some deep meaning that I hadn't grasped).

I say these things because, again, how someone responds to a critical piece of writing is bound to be influenced by what they are looking for; I'm happy for that to mean both what they are looking for in a book, and what they are looking for in their wider life. My view of humans isn't solely positive - it's negative as well. I also see hope for humanity, where others may not see one, and therefore don't want to be reminded of our weaknesses. I hope to have a balance, where the novel is a realistic depiction of the world, containing both things to celebrate and things to mourn. 


I can't expect to please everybody: running after those readers who simply don't want to read something critical of themselves would compromise the novel, depriving it of essential nutrition, rendering it into something akin to really tasty junk food! 
LOADED? Yes I can see that, but with what?
But maintaining that balance, giving a sensible serving of negativity, within an engaging and enjoyable story - that would make this novel worthwhile, both to write and to read. 

Finally, the other day, I was criticised quite harshly about something, and although I'm grateful for the thorough grounding I received (ha), and although I agreed with my criticiser in his identification of my mistake, I know that I still felt a tinge of irritation at being told (granted, with the civility that British culture inevitably demands) that I was wrong. I was having an internal struggle with that part of me, trying to put it up against reason and wisdom.

But as discussed previously, I think it is that motivation to improve that allows me to have that struggle in the first place, and, perhaps, for the humble me to come out on top.

SI

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