It’s well known that tragedy plays a big part in crafting any good, solid storyline. I mean most of the most enduring tales have been those centred firmly around something terrible, a horrible end for beloved characters. The most obvious that will spring to most minds is, of course, Romeo and Juliet (no not that Decap film that was, to put it kindly, terrible and, to put it unkindly, not repeatable in any form of public media.) This kind of thing goes back for centuries, though, millennia. The Greeks had a firm handle on what could get into a persons head and directly stimulate that place in your brain that makes you sad and angry when someone kicks a dog. Sure, everyone says they like it when it all goes well in a story and there is a happy ending, when no-one dies or suffers a major setback. At the end of the day, though, they just end up coming across, to me at least, token and shallow. Not to say there can’t be a happy ending but it means all that much more when it’s earned after struggling to overcome some adversity.
Why does this struggle and loss and sadness wet our narrative pallet? Because it’s more REAL. No matter what the setting may be, be it an outrageous space fantasy with black hole dragons and star dwelling cosmic dwarves, if there’s a well placed play on emotion, we have no choice but to relate. Contrary to popular belief, life is not nice. Or at least it’s not supposed to be. That’s exactly the point, though, we have a built in knowledge of this fact and a pre-disposition to its influence. The simple fact is that happy, light, ‘everything is alright’ narratives seem shallow and unreal because they are. Not to mention naive and ignorant of the general nature of life.
I won’t keep you with examples and deconstructions as this topic is probably one of the most discussed in all of creative history. I just wanted to highlight it’s easy to want to engage with this trope, to gain the maximum amount of emotional investment from an audience, but much harder to pull it off. I can’t profess to be an expert in it, I can’t even try to say I am even good at it, being as modest as I am as well as completely ignorant of the full extent of my own abilities. What I believe of it though is that whatever is being created must come from the heart, channelling some level of inner torment from the creators past. Sure, I could bang on all day about how characters much be well formed and relatable, whatever tragedy you choose must be logical in the story and significant to the characters. That’s not even going into how to keep a hook running, possibly providing hope for the wronged character or keeping them in a constant state of turmoil to keep the audience invested-.
Sorry, said I wasn’t going to go into it.
The point is you have to draw on what you know. In order to create a great story you must have lived a reasonable life. You have to be able to draw on the ups and downs, goods and especially bads of your life to really engage those you want to tell your story to. Personally, I like to come away from a story, whatever format it may be in, feeling emotionally exhausted, potentially hating the story at first because it dared to push my feelings to that point. It’s easy to come away saying you are angry because Event X happened to Character Y and it upset you but just think, if it managed to get you that bothered than it must have been doing something right to engage you that much. If you really didn’t like it, you simply wouldn’t care, not one bit.
Don’t be scared to feel the feelings Storyweavers are trying to invoke in you. After all happiness is a lie and the sooner that’s realised, the sooner you’ll start having a great time.
P.S. If you’ve ever watched the first 20 or so minutes of Disney Pixars “Up” you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at with this post…