Last week I went to see Death of a Salesman at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford. Yes, I know, I’m a big fat show-off but some of you live in exotic climes, some of you live by the sea and lots of you live near SHOPS, so I’m entitled to a little boasty-boastiness, about the fact that I live down the road from Stratford-upon-Avon.
Anyway, Death of A Salesman is considered by many to be the ‘greatest American play’ and because of that – and also because 2015 is the centenary of the playwright Arthur Miller’s birth – the RSC have chosen to produce it this year. I know all this from watching director Greg Doran’s little video, here.
There are some amazing actors starring in it – Harriet Walter and Anthony Sher and the rather gorgeous Alex Hassell (who is usually Prince Hal/Henry V, so it was nice to see him doing something in jeans) – and even though it was the first night, there was, as far as I could tell, only one small ‘blooper’ when, at the end of the first half, Ms Walter called someone by the wrong name.
But. And it’s a big ‘but’: Death of a Salesman is very depressing. I mean, I’ve seen it before but it really struck me this time, just how unremittingly sad it is. At least, in Shakespeare, there are some funny bits in the tragedies.
So, as much as I admired the acting, the staging, the production and the music, I’m not sure that I’ll be going to see Death of a Salesman again. Life’s grim enough, isn’t it? If you want sad, tragic and pointless, just switch on the news.
Which made me think about writing short stories. If you keep them ‘upbeat’, not only are they more fun to write but you’ve got a better chance of success with them – especially (definitely) if you’re writing for the women’s magazines but even when you’re writing competition entries, too.
I’ve often read judge’s reports in which they moan about the general misery, death and destruction in most of the stories they’ve had to sift through. And Writers Forum magazine, in the details for their monthly short story competition, actually specify what they don’t want (ie: misery): “All types of story are welcome, be it crime, comedy, history, romance, horror, sci-fi.. but THEY MUST BE ENTERTAINING/RIVETING, NOT UNREMITTINGLY BLEAK. Don’t rely on subjects like death, abuse etc to add cheap emotion. Stories must work harder to engage readers.”
Which makes you think, they must get an awful lot of ‘unremittingly bleak’ stories, mustn’t they?
If you’re trying to write for the women’s magazine market, you must offer hope and an uplifting ending, even if the subject of your story is serious.
Teresa Ashby wrote this a while ago (2009!) but I can still remember it and it still resonates with me. Definitely worth a read if you’re wondering why you keep hitting a blank wall with your submissions to People’s Friend.
It’s not easy to be funny when you write. That’s why those who can do it, often do so well. I love reading Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella novels, not because they’re ‘great literature’, or even, at times, terribly original. But they make me laugh. Out loud. And that’s good enough for me.