There’s this character. Let’s, in our whimsical mood, call him Jake Fitzwither. Jake works in an accounting firm in the daytime, but by night Jake slaughters humanities students with a tire iron. There are two novels about Jake quivering on the writer’s pen. The first is a detailed exploration as to why a human being would choose to spend his life as an accountant in a world of art and song and colour and interesting people. The second is about what makes Jake so keen to slaughter humanities students with that particular implement. It doesn’t take the entire marketing department of Random House to predict which novel will shift more units. The reader wants . . . bleakness! Murder!
But do they really?
Or do readers merely respond to what we (the writers) think they might like? If Dan Brown and his frogspawn started writing ponderous novels about the nature of being among ennui-stricken fishmongers, would the gullible public munch them down like putrid snacks, or would their specially-trained brains, sensing lack of page-turning plot and believable characters, hurl them across the room in outrage? I am waiting for that day when a populist writer attempts an arrogant epic on something so microscopic as a man who drops a box of cereal in SupaSave—stretched out for 900 pages.
It might change something. Liberate us from something. We need someone to save us from this emphasis on plot and character, people wanting characters “drawn from life,” meaning recognisable as characters who talk like characters in a novel.
Set a precedent, you money-grubbing bastards!
Humiliate yourselves so we may breathe!