When Bad Things Happen to Characters (and then Keep on Happening)

So, I finished A Game of Thrones. I’m not bragging. I was just caught up in it.

But I met up with my friend Bob the other night to do some writing and we spent a few minutes talking about the book (he joined my book club – see here). Bob is having a tough time getting into it. Admittedly, it is an 800 page book with a huge cast of characters and Bob has little to no time to read, but the same things are true of me and I had no trouble getting hooked on A Game of Thrones.

So what is the difference?

The difference, I think, is that Bob is a modern knight who believes in chivalry and noble fights. And I like the evil characters almost as much as the good ones.

Bob told me that there was only one or two characters that he really liked and that he was sure that if he keeps reading, within three chapters or so something horrible would happen to them. He isn’t wrong.

Authors cause terrible things to happen to their characters all the time. They do it to increase tension in the plots. They do it to show the mettle of their characters. They do it in order to make the resolution all the sweeter because the stakes were as high as they could be. They do it for shock value.

I was relatively young when I first read 1984 by George Orwell. *Spoiler Alert* Big Brother wins. When I read the ending for the first time, I had to read it again just to make sure that I didn’t miss something. This was completely unlike any of the fairy-tales or sitcoms that I was used to, where everything works out in the end. At the realization that not all stories had to have happy endings, my worldview changed and with it my reading preferences.

I went on to devour the works of Kurt Vonnegut. A friend passed me a copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 because he didn’t like it. I drank it down like an alcoholic drinks down a bitter ale. Dystopian books took prominence on my bookshelves. They became a part of who I am.

In a way, I’m glad that Bob isn’t having an easy time reading A Game of Thrones because it means that the world isn’t full of jaded folk like me. The world needs more people like him.

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3 thoughts on “When Bad Things Happen to Characters (and then Keep on Happening)

  1. It’s necessary to test characters with physical, emotional, and/or moral conflicts; we want to see them succeed, right? Especially in ways we might not be able to do.
    I have a soft spot for the sweeter humanity in people, though, I must admit. I can appreciate an unhappy ending…but I don’t usually like it. Not everyone has to live happily ever after (Jekyll and Hyde, one of my all-time favorite books, does not end happily, but the “hero” does win, in a way), but I grind my teeth when good doesn’t conquer evil.

    One of the differences about the Game of Thrones characters, though, is that very, very few of them are totally good or totally evil. Martin paints a nice picture full of moral grey areas. So I don’t know if I’d say you’re jaded. More likely, you’re just more balanced. 🙂

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