Thursday, 25 February 2021

Trust Between Authors and Audience

This post has spoilers for Wandavision.

I've found myself thinking a lot lately about the trust that exists between authors and their audience, whether they write books, TV, or movies.

There are some authors that I will trust to take me to hell and back.  No matter how dark the story is and how impossible it seems, I know there is a point to the bad stuff and it will be worth it in the end.  Gena Showalter, Jenna Black, and J. Michael Strazynski are a few of the examples that immediately spring to mind.

Then there are other authors who seem to insist on making their characters suffer for no reason other than to glory in their pain (cough - Ronald D. Moore - cough).  It won't take much for me to bail out of their stories because I no longer trust them to see me through to the other side.

This ties in with genre expectations, but goes beyond them as well.  Yes, if I'm reading something marketed as a mystery, I expect the murder to be solved.  If I'm reading a book marketed as a romance, I expect there to be a central love story and a happy ending.  If I'm watching a movie marketed as a disaster action film, I expect the tornado footage to last more than two minutes total (yes, that's a specific example - Into The Storm, I don't recommend it).

I started thinking about this as I've been watching
Wandavision.  After the fourth episode, I was tempted to bail, even though I'd really been enjoying the writing and the chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda) and Paul Bettany (Vision).  As a comic geek, I know that Wanda, aka The Scarlet Witch, is usually a villain.  I didn't want to watch another five episodes of her descending into grief and losing everything all over.  I didn't want to watch her be broken and become one of the bad guys.  That's not a story that I want to have inside my head.

I really loved the relationship between Wanda and Vision in the MCU movies.  I **hated** that they killed him off in Infinity War and that he didn't get to come back in Endgame.  But I wasn't surprised.  It's the one part of comics that I dislike: relationships almost always end in misery.  And for a genre that constantly brings characters back from the dead, their inability to imagine people being both in love and in exciting adventures is kind of disappointing.

I didn't want to watch Wanda's heart break all over again, but I stuck with it.  Because the MCU has delivered on its promise to tell nuanced stories where characters may go through bad times, but they don't suffer unnecessarily.  Heroes might be tempted down a dark path but they don't stay there.

This week's episode (7) proved I was right to trust them.  She's not the villain.  She's not broken.  And it's a relief that's renewed my excitement for the rest of the series.

Stories need tension to be interesting.  Some stories have light tension with low stakes and they can be quite enjoyable.  Some stories have a lot of tension with very high stakes and that is where trust in the author becomes essential.

Just putting characters in horrible situation creates tension, but it's the way they get out of it that makes a story satisfying.  Making horrible things happen to them just to have them in pain, that's not satisfying.  Or at least, not to me.

And that's why, while my stories deal with dark subject matter such as assault, trauma, addiction, and prejudice, they are there because I want to show people coming out of that darkness.  I want to show that those things don't preclude finding love and happiness in life later on.  There's a reason, and there's a satisfying outcome.  That's why my readers know they can trust me.

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