Why is Today’s Fiction Sad or Depressing?

Many of my short stories, the dozens that have not yet been accepted for publication, are somewhat lighthearted. Yes, there is a conflict within the story, otherwise there would not be a story, right? But it is either a humorous conflict or the resolution is upbeat.  As I search for short fiction markets I try to find a publication that offers stories that my fiction would be a “fit” with. I read and read and read and then I reach for the scotch bottle. I ponder if all of fiction today is sad or depressing or just designed to push one toward the edge. Yes, there are some places where humor is a requirement, but I am seeking more mainstream fiction markets, and they almost never makes one chuckle.

And it is not humor I am writing, but mainstream stories that are not about cancer, death, rape, divorce, war, pain and sadness. I did write one short piece about a son dealing with his elderly mother’s Alzheimer’s.

But that was a fairly humorous story which due to no effort on my part, evolved into a sort of warm sadness. It is probably my most acclaimed story so far But the majority of my stories are not about sadness. And they remain unpublished.

I poised this question to my online writer’s group, and received several answers. Some thought it was the fact we have suffered over the last few years with deranged politics, a pandemic, toilet paper shortages, riots and social disturbances and now a major war in Europe. People are stressed, depressed maybe. Also, many of today’s authors are young people, under 30, and that generation is not known as a happy generation. And I do not blame them. Some said stories must have a conflict. I mean, that is true, as if there is no conflict what do you have? Just a few pages about someone’s normal life? Conflict of some kind defines the story. So I turned my search over to DuckDuckGo, and eventually discovered this quote by Tobias Wolff.  He is a modern writer who is somewhat noteworthy. I don’t know when he said this, but here it is:

“I have never been able to understand the complaint that a story is “depressing” because of its subject matter. What depresses me are stories that don’t seem to know these things go on, or hide them in resolute chipperness; “witty stories,” in which every problem is the occasion for a joke; “upbeat” stories that flog you with transcendence. Please. We’re grown ups now.”

So this quote seems to be saying grown up adults don’t write “witty” stories. To do so is ignoring apparently the reality that all of life is tough and mean. I guess that makes me less of an adult?  Maybe, wouldn’t be the first time I have been described that way.

I lean toward satire often, so maybe that is my excuse? Any thoughts about this? Leave a comment.

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