by Janis Patterson
It seems we live our lives by holiday seasons – Christmas, New Years, Valentines, Easter, Memorial Day… you see what I mean. And it seems that each holiday season crimes go up. Murders increase. Family member turns on family member. What is it about a time that should be all about joy and celebration that turns people murderous?
Perhaps we have too many expectations. Christmas especially for most of us doesn’t live up to the perfect holiday implied by saccharine TV shows and too-perfect-to-be-real Christmas cards. Unfortunately, most families don’t wear their Sunday best to stand around a huge, professionally decorated tree and sing carols, but in spite of this a lot of us wonder why our family isn’t like this.
Valentine’s is no different, though on the whole less emotionally charged. Some people don’t care about the romantic side of life. Some have given up on it. Some have their patterns set with their loved one, and don’t need the traditional frills and furbelows of Traditional Romance. Some of us do, though. We want the candy and the cards and the heartfelt sighs of Everlasting Love – at least for the moment. Jewelry and trips and all the rest would be nice, too, but it’s the emotions that really count. The romantics who can celebrate it and the lonely ones who have no one to celebrate it with (and I have been both) have expectations, expectations reality can never really live up to.
And that’s where the death part comes in. Humans are governed by primal drives. Yes, we have created a veneer of civilization that keeps us from running amok like a two-year-old denied a treat when we are disappointed or fail to get something we want, but that veneer is sometimes terrifyingly thin and fragile. Who hasn’t heard of a spurned lover wreaking vengeance for being rejected? This unhappy circumstance isn’t endemic only to Valentine’s Day, of course – it happens all year round, yet so many instances of sad and/or vicious repercussions of love-deprivation do occur close to the holiday. And yes, to all holidays.
Holidays build up our expectations to an expanded degree, which makes the fact lots of our dreams don’t come true that much more difficult to bear. It’s hard to keep an even keel when everyone but you seems to be wrapped in perfection.
And for that we must be held partially responsible. We as writers are the myth-makers. It is from our pens that the archetypes flow. Should we change our stories so that our characters have no hope, that their lives are as glum and free from redemption as the most tortured of real life persons? I most sincerely hope not. As writers we owe the public good stories, but I think that we also owe our readers at least a glimmering of hope – hope, not necessarily expectations. Not everyone in life gets a happy ending, and not every character gets a happy ending, but I think they should at least have the hope of a happy ending – whatever that happens to mean to them. Yes, for a love-deprived serial killer that hope might be the extermination of his next victim – something that should not happen, especially in real life – but to be a well-rounded character he needs hope, however twisted his vision of that might be.
Do I believe every character deserves a hearts-and-flowers-rainbows-and-unicorns happy ending? No. That kind of universal joy neatly tied with a string belongs in fairy tales. But neither do I believe in total doom and gloom and no ray of sunshine ever. Perhaps our characters don’t get what they want, but like humans, they deserve at least the hope of it. In other words, a story shouldn’t end when the pages run out. We go on spurred by hope, and our characters should too, even if the book is finished. Hope is what makes us – and our characters – truly live.