Monday, March 23, 2015

When Evil Triumphs Over Good

Awhile back, when I was enrolled in an online YA writing class, I transferred my observation of the world as I saw it during my youth into my writing. For an assignment, I submitted a story outline where evil triumphs over good. My classmates disapproved of this conclusion. But it’s not fair that the villain doesn’t get their comeuppance! But the protagonist’s good deeds don’t pay off! I struggled with this feedback for awhile because I believed that my story's conclusion depicted reality.

I don't think there's any industry, community, or age group that's completely immune to people who don’t play nice, who bully, who are narcissistic and two-faced, who loudly assume causes for blatant self-serving motivations. Unfortunately, sometimes I see people like this thrive. At times, I’ve also seen generous and good-natured people get mistreated or exploited.

Growing up, I’ve read many stories where good behavior is rewarded, and I feel this paradigm in kidlit sets up a false expectation for young readers that life will always be fair if you play by the rules. I intended to show readers that life might not be fair, you might not get what is due to you, but you can move on….like the way I learned to move on during times in my life when I wasn’t treated fairly.

Still, I let my classmates’ and teacher’s feedback sink in. So I thought for a long time and finally decided I could try a different approach to my story.

Before arriving there, I also considered my feelings as an adult about consequences for good and bad behavior. So while I'm aware there are still terrible, unjust things that happen to many people around the world, I can't deny that sometimes the universe does come through, that things go around and come around, both the good and the bad, in twisted, unexpected ways.  Sort of on this topic...Years ago, author Nathan Bransford wrote a post called Doing the Right Thing that I found optimistic and enlightening. 

Have you ever needed some time to process feedback about your writing?  What got in the way of immediate acceptance of the feedback?

How do you feel about stories where evil triumphs over good? 

18 comments:

Empty Nest Insider said...

It's true how we're taught at an early age that good triumphs over evil. Sadly, that is not often the case, and good people do suffer every day. We all want to believe in happy endings, but you have to decide what works best for your story. I really don't know much about YA novels, but happy endings tend to be trending right now with the return of the fairy tale. That might explain why your group felt that way, but ultimately the decision is yours. Good luck, Cynthia!

Julie

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I usually try to listen to all constructive feedback then take time to process it before deciding to apply it or not.

As someone who writes a lot of dark stories, I do try to end my longer stories and novels - YA and adult - with some light, some hope, if not necessarily a happily ever after.

Pat Hatt said...

Yep, we are told good always wins, but that is usually not the case. But then again people read books to escape reality. So whatever works best for the story I say.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Reality is that sometimes evil wins, but when I am reading, it is to escape reality, so I don't want evil to win.
I have some great test readers and critique partners and I've not had any problems embracing most of their suggestions.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

It's generally said that YA need not have a happy ending, but there is usually at least some ray of hope. I have read YA with some very dark endings, so it can work. (See Blythe Woolston's BLACK HELICOPTERS for an example.)

Emily R. King said...

There must be a thread of light throughout any story for me to read it. Even if the ending isn't a total HEA, I want to see that the writer incorporated humanity's most precious resource—hope.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I think it's easier to see that kind of ending in a short story, where the reader expects a TWIST. It's part of the genre of a short story. Yet, I guess the very fact that we call it a twist very plainly says that anything other than good triumphing over evil is twisted.

Yet, sadly, headlines tell us otherwise. :(

DL Hammons said...

Right or wrong...I dislike stories where evil prevails. I know that exists in the world, but I don't want to be entertained by it...and that what reading and watching movies is for me...entertainment.

I'll pick up a newspaper if I want to read the other stories. Sorry. :)

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I think that evil can prevail, too, but maybe not so much as the good. People don't like to think that evil appears to win but I see it every day in my job.

I have missed you!!!

Lynda R Young said...

I often need time to think about the feedback I've received. It's wrong to dismiss it offhand, but also wrong to follow every piece of advice that comes my way. There's that balance that's needed...and that takes time to process.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I write for adults, but there are been several times when I've let my 'baddies' get away with their crimes :-)

Lydia Kang said...

I think switching the usual evil vs good thing is truly fascinating. Also, I always have to lick my wounds after feedback. After a few days, I can look at it with more objectivity.

Sherry Ellis said...

I don't think anybody ever likes when evil triumphs over good, but I think that's a reality that should be acknowledged in stories.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I don't think it's always necessarily about good vs. evil in novels. I mean, I've read several really good books where the bad guys get away with it. I think the difference is there must be light at the end. If the good guys are just screwed over and the villains win... well, it's exactly what you said. We get that in real life. And art is supposed to be bigger than life (it has to be in order to illuminate it). But I also love twists, and the villain getting away can be an excellent twist. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm glad I read this. I usually write happy endings in which good triumphs over evil, but not at the moment. In my current draft, the ending is not going to be a happy one. I'll have to see what my beta readers think when I'm done.

Stephanie Faris said...

ALWAYS!!! In fact, I've found often it's best to read the feedback, walk away from it for a while, then come back to it. Of course, once you get an editor/agent, you don't really want to be that author who says, "No. I'm not going to change a word of it no matter what!" because you probably won't have an editor/agent for long. Even then, though, if you strongly believe a change will negatively impact your vision for the story, you have the right to say no (or come to a compromise).

Nick Wilford said...

I think people like to have a message of hope and escape in a sense from what is often a very gloomy world, particularly younger readers. That said, it definitely shouldn't be easy for good to triumph and going through adverse circumstances should make the payoff all the sweeter.

Margo Berendsen said...

I firmly believe that evil eventually gets its payback... but it can take years and years, sometimes even a lifetime. It's hard of course to write from that perspective for kids or even young adults. I think sometimes everything gets too polished up in kidlit too, and maybe we do need to frame more realistic endings were sometimes evil does triumph. In that case, I think it's important to stress how a kid can turn the evil to good in their own personal way.

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