Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know how I feel about things like preaching in your story, out of context political diatribe, breaking the 4th well, inappropriately clashing reality with fantasy, and so on.
Well… today I wanted to touch on a subject that I think is getting constantly overlooked and deals with pretty much all of the above. It’s a little-known term called escapism.
First, let’s look at the definition:
the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.
So over the long weekend, I went to see a movie with my wife. Because she asked me not to, I’m not going to bring up what movie, but it was one with some singing and dancing, a lot of it seemed very dated and the whole thing was kind of giving the feel of a very fantastical world.
Honestly, though not my type of movie, I was getting into it. The actors were great, you could really feel the chemistry from the main cast, and really… though the singing musical numbers sucked, the soundtrack as a whole was pretty good.
Then for some reason, the writers had to smack us across the face with a dose of reality. After all the boosting the main hero did, after everything he did, and how wonderful things went… In the end, he’s not with the leading lady. They split up and went their separate ways, despite all of the build-up and development of the two characters.
Of course I understand that there is such a thing as a tragic romance and stories that surround tragic events, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing that.
When you set the stage that this is going to be a certain type of story, a certain type of light-hearted fantasy story, then bashing your audience over the head with a sudden dose of reality is both unwelcome and inappropriate.
And the excuse is always the same thing…
Per one of the creators of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ a show that is credited by many as having the worst finale in TV history:
Ugh… no matter how many times I hear a writer justify that choice, it never ceases to piss me off. ‘Well I wrote it that way because that’s how it is in real life, and real life isn’t always the cookie-cutter Happy Ending.’
Yes, we know that. We LIVE in the real world. We’re quite familiar with how harsh the real world is. We do not need a reminder of that.
I’ve always been a big proponent of people writing things the way they want. As a writer myself, I’ve always told people to write what makes you happy and your readers will pick up on that. As always, that’s fine. My issue comes in when a writer feels the need to either insert a ‘shock’ element because they think that this will stir up controversy and bring in more ratings, or feel like their story is getting too far away from reality due to some unwritten rule and thus smack their readers with a dose of it right at the end.
This is why I have such an issue with dropping soapbox politics, unsolicited opinions on political topics that a character should in no way, shape or form, have any concern or even knowledge of, and why characters shouldn’t be coming out of character and breaking the 4th wall for no reason.
This is especially crucial in this day and age with the political climate being extremely hostile to anyone with an opinion on anything. Regardless of what that opinion is. As human beings with a measurable tolerance for every day stresses, we need an escape from politics, an escape from the real world, an escape from harsh reality and that’s what fantasy is supposed to provide. It’s a coping mechanism.
Think about it. When my kids get home from school their tired, they’ve worked hard at school all day, came home and did their homework, and then they want to hear Daddy tell them a story. So every night, it’s on me to come up with something good. Could you imagine what would happen if I ended one of my stories with ‘And the princess had to miss the ball because she had WAY too much homework to do. Her fairy Godmother told her that unless she finished her multiplication tables, she wouldn’t be going out all weekend.’
Mommy would be replacing Daddy as the go to storyteller.
It’s a crude example, but a valid one, none the less. Why do some of us, as writers, feel the need to do this to our readers? Are we really so worried that their heads will go so high into the clouds as to not be able to come back down?
So Jim, what would be your opinion of an appropriate dose of reality?
Well… though I despise this movie for its gross historical inaccuracies… Titanic.
Yeah I know, the portrayal of Ismay was way off. Captain Smith and Mr. Murdoch was way off, but the overall story is one that I think was done correctly. Think about it… a rich girl has a fling with a poor guy on the Titanic who helped her realize that there was more to life then what she knew and more out there than what she had seen. He was the needle she so needed to burst the bubble that she was unable to fight her way out of.
However we’re on the Titanic, so we all knew what was going to happen. The ship was going to sink and most of the people onboard were going to die. Thus what happened to Jack wasn’t outside the realm of possibility in this fantasy retelling. This teetered right on the edge of realism to the point of it credibility.
Would their romance have survived had they gotten off the ship together? Even in that world, I’d say it would have been unlikely. Even in the context of their universe, just by looking at their personalities and character archetypes.
Honestly, this video came out a while back detailing what likely would have happened:
I know that this kinds of seems like the same type of dose of reality, but its not. The Titanic story has no supernatural elements, no reality-freezing dance numbers, nothing other than a few poor character portrayals.
Honestly for that reason, I think a ‘What if’ story would be pretty good… even if it did wind up damaging people’s view of the original source material.
Anyway, in the end, I understand if you want to keep people’s feet on the ground in your story. Honestly, there are ways of doing this… a piece here and a piece there will keep your audience engaged. A major plot-bomb at the end of the story will turn readers and viewers off.
In my opinion, keeping people’s feet firmly planted on the ground when they’re looking for an escape isn’t going to gain you many fans, at least not in my opinion.
Let me know what you think below.
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:
Catch you on the flip side!