Bloggers Note: One item I would like readers to keep in mind about my posts relates to the vast amount of content available to anyone who can plop even the most basic query into a search engine. Overall, my posts will reflect points of view from my own experiences, which is generally the case with many blogs. As a writer, the value and need to conduct research is not lost on me; however, please keep in mind it will not be exhaustive. Making a claim indicating the content I am discussing has been so thoroughly researched that my opinion is king by using words like most or all, would not be intellectually honest in my opinion. Also, I do swear, so if you think my choice of words devalues a particular post, please let me know. Now on to the subject at hand…
If I were to make an opening statement along the lines of characters are the backbone of your story, I believe most of you would perform a facepalm, click your homepage button and not come back to this blog until I sprouted an actual clue of what I am talking about.
It goes without saying; memorable characters are a key component keeping readers glued to a book and viewers sticking with their favorite movies or television series. Treat them respectfully and your ability to throw them into any situation and have them come out relatively unscathed will be extolled from the highest rooftops. Treat them poorly and no corner of the social media universe will be a safe space for you to hide.
If this is a nuance content creators should consider a no brainer, then why have we seen clearly defined and integral characters reduced to nothing more than what I call a ratings grab? When I refer to content creators, I am referring to a broad spectrum of individuals; writers, producers, directors, video game developers and all the others involved who make final and lasting decisions regarding the fate of characters.
I may be off a bit here but in the last 10 to 15 years, I have personally noticed an extremely frustrating practice of content creators treating characters, no matter their level of importance to a story as disposable. When pressed to explain why one of the most resourceful bounty hunters in the galaxy was taken out by a blind man in an overly exaggerated gesture with a pole type weapon, the response is so cavalier you are the one who is made to feel incompetent for asking the question.
There is a slathering of reasons from creators ranging from, It had to happen to demonstrate the strength of… to Death is an inevitable facet of this story, so it was necessary to further… Remove the ellipses and insert any number of intellectual excuses.
Do I think the audience, i.e. viewers and readers, need to monitor their expectations? Absolutely. Being aware of the fundamentals of world building and how it shapes the fate of characters is paramount if one is to understand from an intellectual perspective, why one of their favorites met an untimely demise. If a content creator can sympathize with their audience, while also clearly articulating their reasoning and be direct, those of us who get upset about their decision should take a step back, breathe and see where the story goes.
Case in point. Prior to writing this post, I conducted a bit of research relating to a particular disappointment involving the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) series, Torchwood: Children of Earth, involving the death of Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd). When my husband and I watched the episode in question for the first time in 2009, we were pissed. After scouring through a plethora of message forums regarding Torchwood’s creator, Russell T. Davies’ decision to kill one of our favorite characters on the show, all we saw was red. Being told Torchwood was an adult show and go watch Supernatural if we did not like the decision made us feel like a couple of children being admonished by our parents for throwing a tantrum when we did not get our way. In my mind, I felt Mr. Davies could have cared less who watched his show, so we decided to stop watching and have not looked back since. Fast forward to the present.
I was fully prepared to give Mr. Davies a well-deserved tongue lashing for what I perceived to be a complete lack of respect for his characters although a significant amount of time has transpired since the event in question. Fortunately, I conducted a tad bit more research before whisking my fingers across the keyboard, allowing me to step back, breathe and evaluate my own expectations; I am glad I did. When I had read Mr. Davies initial responses in 2009, the incident was still very fresh and many of the details I read in preparation for this post were not available back then. Examining his thought processes now forced me to refocus my own creative lens. I also had to admit, I was being hypocritical.
Before receiving word my first work, The Cradle of Destiny was going to be published, I always approached the treatment of characters either in my own work or others, while wearing two hats; one of a writer and one of an audience member. My husband and I watch Game of Thorns, The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and, yes, Supernatural, just to name a few. We expect notable characters may be killed off once the setting of the story is taken into consideration. I may explore those nuances in a future post but for the sake of argument, how character demise is handled in the Game of Thorns is vastly different when compared to Supernatural. In the former, character elimination is usually permanent except in one character’s case where their return was necessary for the story to continue moving forward and remain true to foreshadowing.
In an effort to wrap this up, I follow what is not necessarily a simple rule but one whose aim is to help keep me intellectually honest. When a decision is made to remove a character; whether he, she or it are a major or supportive character, I ask myself a question. Does the death fit the character in question? For example, if a main character sacrifices themselves to save a small basket of kittens from a speeding train, was it in their character to perform such an act? If the answer is a resounding yes then it is clearly justified even though the reader/viewer may not see it that way at the time. If the answer is no or a form of mental gymnastics is needed to justify it, content creators owe it to themselves and their audience to re-examine the flow of their story.
Looking at it from my own little corner of cyberspace, I feel if we adhere to proper story telling mechanics; plot, foreshadow, cause and effect, and setting, characters will always be treated respectfully and not as pawns on a chess board.
Feel free to post your questions, comments or concerns. I will respond, if need be, when I able.