“I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any-after all, most people are unhappy, don’t you think?” So said Philip Larkin. I’d agree with that. No-one wants to read a happy story about lucky people having a lovely time. We want our heroes to go through torment and then some. Is it because we are all sadists? Or is it because we just want to know there is someone out there having a worse time than us?
Actually it’s neither. The reason we want to read about unhappiness is because this drives plot. The protagonist has a reason to do something, to make things happen, and we want to see them succeed. So it’s not about sadism, it’s that need for resolution. Like listening to music, we need that concluding note. Anticipating a particular type of note, and then hearing that note, is more pleasurable than something discordant, and so it is with reading novels.
Unless you’re into literary fiction of course… And you probably like jazz too, right?
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