Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The Best Writers are Sadists
Yeah, you heard me right. And no, I don't mean this in some kind of sexual-masochistic 50 Shades of Grey kind of way. Pain is the most important part of your story-- fictional or otherwise.
Though I've always pretty considered hardship to be the most vital ingredient in a successful story, it was only recently that I pondered the extent of it and that truly meant on existential level. With my book nearing the completion of its final draft, my thoughts turned reflective and philosophical. I thought to myself, "Why am I such a jerk to my characters?" Not to spoil anything, but I hurt them-- brutally so-- time and time again. Why did I do this? If am the God of my story and I love my characters deeply, why do I torment them so?
Simple. I had no choice. They were born to amuse a reader... and the other way to do that is make them writhe in agony. I know it's cliche, but there really is no gain without pain. My story would be blank without adversity. The protagonist wouldn't be the man he is without loss, nor would any of the other characters. I mean, the villains wouldn't be villains at all if they had no one to hurt. The characters would have nothing to even do or say if they didn't have to overcome and endure pain-- or prevent it from befalling others. That's what you, the reader, comes to see, don't you? A story about a gladiator would be dull without a lion, and it would be just as pointless if that lion didn't manage to sink his teeth into the guy once or twice. Book readers truly are no different from the spectators of the Roman Colosseum, cheering for feats of glory and crying out for blood. Red is color of entertainment. There's no denying it.That's why utopia will always be a dystopia. Heaven will always be Hell. In peace we are bored... discontented. Humanity needs pain to feel alive.
I'm not ashamed to know and embrace that seemingly cynical facet of human nature. Life is not a full, satisfying experience without failure and depression as we will have nothing to measure our success and happiness against. If you think about it, it's not really cynical statement on our nature at all. If anything, I'd say it's a positive one. It's proof our need culture, and our yearning for purpose. The echo of our collective calls to greatness. We want to feel real emotions. We want to be immersed in compelling dramas. See a good fight. Fight a good fight. Win a fulfilling win, and see others attempt the same. That means blood and bruises-- the shit being kicked out of both sides. Surprises. Thrills and chills. The beaten down dog rising from the ashes to take a bite out of the bigger dog.
The best stories are the roughest rides, no matter where they end up or what happens along the way. Revisiting the dog metaphor, sometimes the dog loses in the end yet wins in a small way. Perhaps he fails miserably in all aspects-- maybe even DIES-- but in doing so he manages to achieve a meaningful emotional reaction in another character. That's tragedy at its finest-- something Shakespeare, arguably one of the greatest storytellers of all time, harnessed and perfected.
Why do we like seeing that though? Why do we crave grittiness; depression? Those are deep questions, but they don't even begin to dive deep enough. Humanity doesn't want to be depressed, but the reality of it is that we are depressed. That's because as adults, we are in a constant state of decline. Growing worse and worse, until we finally lose the inevitable battle against our own mortality. So that's why we like it. We relate to it. We know it and understand it. But the tragedy is only one part. Half of the equation.
Pain is important, I believe, because of the fact that we expect it to end. We see a resolution. The conflict is brought to an end, and the hero escapes his conflict by his own two hands. This is something we all wish to do ourselves. Feel accomplished. Overcome our problems. Achieve great things. Even if the hero isn't even a hero at all-- morally speaking-- he or she still does something to their end. When you break any aspect of storytelling and life itself to its most basic form, you'll find pain. Don't believe me?
Here's a list of what most writers tend to accept as the most important elements to a successful story:
1. Likable Characters
5. Satisfying Resolution
1. You like characters you can relate to-- ones that seem real. The best characters? Ones that feel real emotions. Humans not robots. Ones that deal with baggage... and PAIN. How we react to pain defines who we are.
2. What creates excitement? Danger. What is danger? The possibility of experiencing PAIN. Pain is the ancestor literally to every phobia.
3. Life means constant struggle and growth. The most realistic thing is for a character to overcome PAIN and remove it-- either emotionally or physically. To wake up from a dream you pinch yourself. Pain tells us that things are real.
4. For you to want to fight against something, that thing must have caused you PAIN in some way. Without pain as a motivator, your fight lacks all meaning.
5. The best endings are the ones that leave no loose ends and make the PAIN we felt to get there worth it. Pain is either the result, or the force we managed to stop.
Alright, that's enough. I'm sure by now you're sick of the word pain, (Oh no, there it is again!) but I needed to hammer its importance into your head. What you should take from this beyond any applications to storytelling is that you shouldn't run away from the pain in your life-- nor lament its constant presence. Rather, as you should with writing fiction, embrace the hardship and use it as a source of strength. Turn yourself into a compelling character. Use it for the benefit of your own biography. There's no way to escape life's upsets, so allow yourself to cry every now and then. Let the sting be the back-story to your future greatness.
We humans are creatures that are constantly feeling. Evolution and advancement always begins with a problem to overcome. Pain makes up a huge chunk our of lives. If you can't see it as a positive tool for personal growth, then you are wasting most of your life. The same thing applies to your story. You are the God of your world, responsible for everything that happens. If reality doesn't spare us from hardship, why should your fiction.
So be a sadist. Give your readers the blood they secretly pine for.