Sunday, March 15, 2015

Everybody Lives

Once upon a time, writers used to create stories not just for popular entertainment but also with some sort of message or theme. These writers used to write stories that contained some realistic element, and—believe it or not—characters actually used to die. Today we’ve gotten past all that. Writers recognize the audience’s favorite characters and refuse to kill them off, even after they die. Everybody lives. Shakespeare would be appalled.

Okay, so I am being a little overdramatic (But I’m a writer. That’s a given, right?). Of course there are still writers who don’t just write for the masses and writers who kill off characters. But there is a trend in many franchises where none—or rather most—of the characters die.

If you don’t believe me, take the Marvel movies for example (I actually happen to like these movies; I’m just using it as an example). If I were to rename The Avengers, I would call it Still Not Dead. Seriously though. I would like to motion for a renaming of both Thor movies to Loki “Dies” parts 1 and 2.
This is even the case for some books. For example, despite Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hatred for Sherlock Holmes, Doyle (reluctantly) brought him back to life because of readers’ demands. And readers today have not changed such demands for characters.

For writers today, this can be very frustrating. Readers get angry when their favorite characters are killed off while other writers are criticized for not killing off characters. Why is this? Because there are generally two kinds of audiences—those who want the “happily ever after” stories and those who want the “Shakespearean ending” (not all Shakespeare plays are tragedies, but for my argument, I will refer to these).
So which kind of audience is right? Is it better to read a book or watch a movie where the characters live or where characters die? I would say both are correct for different reasons. While happily ever after stories are often considered unrealistic, they may reflect some need for justice, love, family, etc., and the fulfilment of these. Other times, audiences want stories that move them not only to think but also to feel through stories that reflect the destitution of our world.

As a writer, I believe in killing off characters and their staying dead. While characters may experience many close calls, it’s not is appropriate to ruin a death scene that could mean development for the other characters. Overall, writers shouldn’t overkill characters but they shouldn’t let them persist like weeds. If fictional characters are to be realistic, they must be mortal too.

Which kind of reader are you? And if you’re a writer—if you dare answer—which kind of writer are you?

Literary References: Shakespeare’s tragedies, Marvel’s The Avengers, Thor, and Thor: The Dark World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection.