To say that this year’s first months have been difficult, it would be an understatement. Massive fires, the menace of war and the threat of a pandemic on a global scale, would make you think that these guys are riding again.
In the personal front, I’ve been going through a really rough patch, from depression to financial stress, to see how my country is sinking at the hands of a moron, to the fact that I’m unable to work as the school where I work was taken by students and we are unable to enter (look, it’s a long story about a just cause and good intentions paving the way to hell through poor decision management by both sides of the conflict, so it’s not part of the topic here). So, I’ve been able to keep me busy with two things: doing house chores and writing.
And it’s on the writing front that this entry will deal with. In the past decades, probably since 2001, there has been a marked trend in media and literature to portray bleak worlds where cynism is the rule. There are debates about whether 9/11 dispelled any sense of hope for the new Millenium, or whether South Park has created a generation of cynics and people lacking empathy. This trend about the crappiness of the world is compounded by the lack of prospects for younger generations, lousy political systems that have failed those they should serve, and the existential threat of climate change.
This has resulted in a slew of stories in which the best the main character can hope for is surviving, for pyrrhic victories. Worlds where everyone is an asshole. And while that can lead to compelling, heart-wrenching plot lines -such as in Castlevania or Breaking Bad- it’s my opinion that most stories of the so-called grimdark inclination have become a retelling of how awful human beings are. That the Hobbes-Rousseau debate about the nature of man is being tested for final proof that we are all bastards. And if media is telling you that all around you are assholes and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, your natural predisposition is to think on those lines. And that is a dangerous proposition as it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with consequences both at a personal and societal level. I know this personally because my personal opinion of humans, in general, is not very good.
And I want to change that.
Look, I don’t have anything against those that enjoy writing and reading grimdark stories. I grew up with the gritty 90s comic book storylines. And when well written, as I said, make for a compelling narrative. But it’s my belief that we, as writers, have also to buck the trend. To offer readers something that makes them still believe that things can get better, not through miracles, but through hard work. Things will never be easy, there always be serious challenges and dangers around the corner. But we have to believe that changing the world is possible if we change our mindset.
I still believe that we can change things around, that we can achieve a better world. But we need to spread the message. In my opinion, there is a growing need for it. And we, as writers, as story crafters, have a moral imperative to do so. It’s the fight from our trench.
You know why I think Avengers Endgame was such a blockbuster? It’ wasn’t only due to the fancy FX or the geek’s dream about seeing so many characters together in scree. Underneath that corporative behemoth, there was a message -put there on purpose or not- about hope and how even in the bleakest circumstances, there was still a way to fix things. The scene of Cap hearing Falcon to his left during the darkest hour is that: Hope.
Even Game of Thrones, with all its bleakness, had a lingering sense of hope. That Jon would save the day (it was Arya, in fact), that a good ruler would take charge of Westeros (Tyrion will be the de facto ruler, because c’mon, Bran is busy being the fantasy equivalent of Google and Tyrion has proven to be a decent Hand of the King). Even with all its failings and horrible characters like Ramsay Bolton, the story was one about hope defeating darkness.
Hope, like in the myth about Pandora, is the last thing that remains when everything is falling apart. Hope is what keeps us moving, keeps us fighting. Hope is the fuel of our dreams and the shield that guards our hearts and souls while we find a way to get out of a problem. Hope dies last because it’s light is inextinguishable. Hope is powerful if we let it grow. Hope is what makes us humans.
Maria Haskins, who is one of the best writers I’ve had the pleasure to known and talk with, put it in better words than I could even aspire too, so I’m taking the liberty to quote her tweet (which incidentally inspired this entry).
Last year, one of my ARC novel’s reviewers told me that my story could count as HopePunk. Because apparently due the characters banding together and pushing aside their differences, manage to rise from a bleak scenario to save the day through sheer willpower and cooperation. I’m not sure if I’m qualified to declare my novel HopePunk. But it left me thinking about it and more importantly, I’m incorporating more of it in the sequel, both in Alex’s arc -who is this time the MC- and the world’s arc.
In one front, Alex will be fighting against his inner demons, his depression, realizing that he is not alone. And on the other, Harland is trying to show to the world that is through cooperation, through accepting the other for their differences, rather than shunning them, that the planet can be saved when is faced with dire dangers. I’m not sure if the first book is HopePunk, and I’m not sure the second will be. But I’m sure as hell that I’m trying to add more hope to my stories. There was a time where I tried to write Tempest Blades as a more grimdark story. But I failed miserably. Because a voice in my head kept telling me that it was not the way. And I’m happy to have listened to that voice. The way was, to add hope. Yes, life goes on, difficulties are always present. But is through hope that we can overcome said difficulties.
So it’s high time we write more hopeful stories. For the sake of our mental health and for the sake of the wider community. Writers can conjure through their imagination a more hopeful outlook of life, one that will help us to face reality and strive to change it for something better.
And this would be the most Punk thing we can do these days. Why? Punk is defined by being anti-establishment. And in a world where the establishment tells you that everything sucks and you should conform, in a world where everything seems bleak, having hope for a better future is the most punk thing you can do. Even if it’s a sliver of hope. Revolutions have started with less.
It’s time for a revolution of hope so we can muster the strength to fix this world before it’s too late.