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Glass two-thirds full or cracked and leaking the last drop of water in the middle of a desert.

The two sides of the Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism or as TV Tropes puts it:

  • In a heavily idealistic series, Humans Are Good. The starry-eyed pacifist will be able to settle wars, get people to understand each other, or destroy the Big Bad in a glowing ball of goodness entirely by accident. The cynic, on the other hand, is often depicted as a primitive who would just make matters worse, or a Knight Templar General Ripper advocating Nuke Em All as a solution to every problem without even stopping to ask any questions at all.
  • In a heavily cynical series, Humans Are Bastards. The starry-eyed pacifist is cannon fodder at best, someone who needs protection from the people who know how the world really works, or at worst a naive fool who puts everyone else in danger through his/her reckless naïveté, or who is actively working for the bad guys under the deluded impression that they’re doing the right thing and working for peace. The cynic, on the other hand, is the person who knows how the world works, the smart, street-savvy tough guy who knows that the only way to solve some problems is to beat them into submission.

Now life doesn’t work that way, at least for most of us anyway. We are always looking for a happy medium, a golden mean if you will (beware of the inherent fallacy within), but as authors we need to set the tone early in the work and go from there.

That doesn’t mean that stories full of pathos can’t have their funny moments. Nothing says “the Hero is one cool mother” like having him throw a quick one liner that tickles the readers funny bone in the middle of a ambush. Want to ground a lighthearted scene? Try interrupting it with a phone call announcing the death of a character’s close relative. The best stories play the slide like a fiddle, but in the end they remain firmly rooted in their starting position.

Of course one could skew the mood by starting on one end of the scale and ending on the other. Ending your buddy comedy with a funeral is a good way to show that life is transitory and you must live for the moment. The heroes getting the girl/peace in our time after a fight to the death to save all creation means that the characters (and by extension the readers) have earned their happy ending.

The key is to play it by ear without falling from either end of the spectrum. Too much sugar or too much blood will spoil anyone’s appetite unless they area a saccharine vampire.

If that’s the case run, run for your lives!

And now for some music:


  1. Rather than siding definitively on idealism or cynicism, I like realism in such stories. I like stories where neither the pacifist way, nor the fighting way is always correct. Where it really depends on the situation. And of course, in many situations, there is no easy answer between the two.

  2. I agree, but I think this serves as a good starting point. The original mood will certainly mark the rest of the story.

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