Friday, September 25, 2009

More dead characters

So, continuing yesterday's morbid thoughts on character mortality . . . 

Some authors go out of their way to bring mortality into the story early.  It's part of the world they're building.  They want you to know that in their world bad things can suddenly happen to anybody, that sometimes people die by accident or for stupid reasons, that good things can be smashed and destroyed between eye blinks.  Brent Weeks mentioned that he learned from George R.R. Martin that killing off a main character early on shows you're serious and gets people to pay attention. 

Or, as my sister points out, it makes some people stop reading.  Her philosophy is that the world is dark and sad enough, thank you.  Why spend additional time reading depressing things?  She doesn't like to start watching epic shows unless they're over, so she can know who dies and who lives.  She wants to know who she can safely attach to. 

Don't we all.

However, in real life we have no guarantees.  We can't take anyone for granted because we could all die really at any moment.  To take it down a notch, we don't make friends only with those who we foreknow will stick with us through life.  I frequently strike out in this area.  I befriend people and enjoy their company immensely and think they enjoy mine just as much, but then they drop me and leave. 

It's true that I am more cautious about investing in people now, but I seem to have transferred that fearless befriending ability to characters in stories.  Shows where everyone dies in the end?  Bring it on (and bring the tissues).  Books where everyone pretty much dies in the first chapter?  Hit me.  Stories set in dark and horrible worlds full of unexpected mortality, cruelty, and the evils of humanity?  Yup. 

Sometimes experiencing works like this is like being spiritually pummelled.  It's like having your face ground into the broken fallenness of humanity.  Of course no one likes that!  That's not what I like about these works. 

What I like is hope.  I have become a bloodhound of hope.  I sniff out the faintest traces in the story, the smallest whiffs of grace and mercy and God, and when I find them, it's like He's whispering in my ear, "See what I can do?  I love you."

I think maybe most of us in American are too used to being comfortable and having things our way.  We like nice things.  We don't like to think about things that aren't nice.  We are self-deluding and blind, aren't we?  We like to imagine the world is a nicer place than it is, and so we try to only listen to stories that make us feel good and safe and happy.  We only want our children to know about nice, safe, happy things.  But is that what's best for them?  For us?  Is that's what's best for the world we live in?

It's not that I like pain.  I think maybe I love pain transformed.  I want to write stories like that.  I'm sad that I will lose a lot of readers who aren't willing to go through the grit and dirt and sludge to see just how amazing that hope is, shining like a diamond in a swamp. I wish more people would brave the swamp for the chance to see the beauty.

I wonder if this is part of my wishing for the last lines from the story "Aftermaths" from Bujold's Shards of Honor to be true: 

"Yes, he thought, the good face pain.  But the great--they embrace it."



How do you react to character mortality in stories?  Do you try to avoid the sad ones?  Do you try not to read anything too dark and gritty?  Too graphic?  Do you read just about anything?  What will make you stop reading a story, and why?

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