Sunday, July 31, 2016

Purpose Vs. Point in Fiction

I used to be a fan of The Walking Dead TV series. I was totally enthralled with the first year, but not so much after the second, and even less so after the third. This had nothing to do with the gore and horror; after all, this is a zombie-focused survival story, so it comes with the territory. I also liked the characters and their backstories.

By the fourth season, I found the show increasing difficult to watch as more key characters were being picked off by zombies and others. Admittedly, it was interesting to see the change in the main characters as they learned to live with fear and loss, and sharpen their survival skills.

Clearly, the characters’ purpose was to stay alive, and there were plenty of internal and external conflicts providing huge obstacles to do so. So, why did I lose interest? Because I started to wonder what was the point of all this constant fighting and running away, only to settle somewhere else and have hopes dashed again?

Periodically, the series provided a glimmer of hope that there were safe places to go to, that someone competent and sane would be in charge and offer a safe haven, but efforts to find it inevitably failed, at least during the seasons I watched.

All of this got me to thinking about other stories, where the stakes are high, the conflict and tension immense, and the characters intriguing. Why did those stories work for me while this one didn’t? The answer is that there was always an end-game, a final success that would end the misery, leaving the hero triumphant, albeit physically and/or emotionally damaged.

Sure, some will argue that each storyline in The Walking Dead ends in triumph as Rick and company live to fight another day. But, I still say, why bother? During the years I watched, there wasn’t a cure on the horizon and adequate help was nonexistent.

I realize that everyone has their own definition of what a story’s point is. Why is something being written? What is the reader, or viewer, getting out of it? Is the satisfaction strong enough to keep watching?

My favorite genre is mysteries and they have been since I was a girl. I love that the bad guys get caught and that justice is served. For me this is emotionally satisfying. The story has a point as the protagonist struggles to find the killer and winds up triumphant.

Regardless of whether you’re writing scripts, novels, or nonfiction, make sure your stories have a point, or readers might not stick with you.

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