Heroes, Anti-Heroes, And King Lear Fiction Part I

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Inkspots, Musings
Tags: , , , , ,

These three things have been a hot topic among my Scribe friends this weekend and so I thought I’d give a break down of what the three really mean to a writer, and my thoughts on them, for what they’re worth. I do see an awful lot of books at work(for those who don’t know I work in an Indy Bookstore) and after a while I got  rather good at spotting trends. Not that I’m as quick as those who are high up in the publishing industry in spotting the trends, but then they don’t do any hand selling to customers like I do. I get to see a micro sampling of a writers audience in real-time  which is rather cool.

I’m going to reverse the order of the topics in the title and start with

King Lear Fiction (End of the Story World)

I’m going to lump in here, Dystopian & Epic Fantasy as well as Supernatural Romance and Supernatural Fantasy (set in our world rather than another time and place).   Recently these kinds of books have exploded onto the market, thanks in large part to the success of The Hunger GamesLeviathan, and  Divergent  to name a few. Books like these have similar parts; the teen hero or young person is stripped away from the family (or is an orphan which really is the same thing)  they sacrifice love, their dreams, or themselves.

So far, so good. This is where the story arc can go up into triumph or down into despair.  These stories do a nose-dive. Just like in Shakespeare’s King Lear, where there are  moments along the storyline  that the King could stop the agonizing plunge into darkness and despair, these books have a chance to stop the nose dive and they choose to plumb the  depths of misery.  The heroes actions don’t save the ones they love, the sacrifice is invalidated,  and the evil that they stood against advances often triumphing.   Either literally or figuratively, the character’s world is destroyed. And heroes are so damaged as to make me doubt that they will really ever be happy again. I imagine that they are put on suicide watch by the remaining  supporting characters.

When I’ve read a book like this, my first reaction is Well, that’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back.  And I’m a little depressed. I can’t keep putting that kind of melancholy into my mind, I’ve got my own problems to deal with, thank you very much.

I’m not the only one to feel this way. More and more, readers will ask me as they come in the store “Is this one of those ‘hopeless’ novels? If I answer that it is dark, they’ll put it back on the shelf and ask me for “A book where someone is happy at the end, and they haven’t betrayed  their best friend or lost their little sister.”

It’s an interesting phenomenon,  people who are facing hard times financially or otherwise, want to read a story where there’s a happily ever after.

This is well documented throughout the Great Depression, where movies and books that had a rosier-tomorrow ending enjoyed a huge boost in sales.  People wanted to read stories of hope and adventure.  They tended to read books that promised that things were going to get better, and that if they held on and endured, they’d have a happy ending in their own life.

My best guess is that the market is going to be saturated by the King Lear books soon, and the pendulum will swing wildly back the other way and publishers will be looking for the  encouraging upward swing instead of the dark plunge.

I was  recently reminded by  Luke Alistar,  that we writers  have  quite a bit of power, and we should be mindful of what we are putting in our readers heads.

If you are currently writing King Lear  fiction, please take a moment and think about what I’ve said here.  Why are you writing it? If it’s because that’s the “trend” right now, watch out. We’re getting close to saturation point.

If you are writing it because it’s on your heart, ask yourself what do you want your audience to take away from your story?  Will they be encouraged to face the struggles in their own life?  Or will they be caught in a mental morass of despair? Adjust your story accordingly to what you want them to have, Scribes. And as always:

Encourage one another.

  1. Megan-Marie says:

    I hate dystopian fiction, to the point I feel tired and sick just listening to someone else talk about it or if I notice someone else reading it.

    Tragedy is good. There is something beautiful in the crush of irreversible loss, particularly if it’s a natural part of the story (which is an important point–where the character must die because that’s what happened–not because the author felt like jerking the reader’s chain). Like photographs in the rain or trampled flowers or abandoned amusement parks. I like dead people, death, and cemeteries. But what I can’t abide is cheap effect and melodrama, or authors who postulate that the world is a miserable place where nothing gets better. In a well-done tragedy, the world is not at fault. Normal people, in fact, even if they are touched and saddened by the loss, pretty much go on with their lives and Life remains, as always, death’s beautiful counterpoint. In dystopian fiction, the world is miserable and Life is a futile cesspool. Somehow, everything has gone wrong, no one can do anything about it, and the book’s so-called heroes are doomed to failure. I either feel intense disgust or overwhelming frustration, and when there is no fun to be had in reading, well, why bother? (I’ve noticed YA novels in particular are stuck on this dystopian bent. Good gosh, and they wonder why teen suicide rates are so high?)

    Anyway. I had a spin on why Hamlet succeeds where Lear fails, in my opinion, but I hate this stuff so much I’m tired of talking about it.

    • That would be a cool comparison, Lear and Hamlet. I would think the driving difference is the core nature of the character. Hamlet, m’boy, is very much someone who wants justice. Lear is on a power trip, and Hamlet really isn’t. 😀 There’s my two bits as to why Hamlet trounces Lear. Though I do love Lear. But I haven’t read it in years. Hamlet, Hamlet is a companion.

      • Megan-Marie says:

        I was going to use the exact word “justice” 😀 But also, thinking about it, that Hamlet is thrust into a situation he didn’t ask for and he performs to the best of his ability. He doesn’t fail, because the murderer is dead at the end, but he doesn’t survive. So the whole thing is moving and wonderful. Lear makes one stupid, frustrating decision after another, so it’s just sitting there watching them sink the Titanic in defiance of all common sense, logic, and decency. Othello is the same way, and I don’t like either of them. (One could argue that Coriolanus makes stupid decisions–but I will argue that, like Hamlet, he performs the utmost of his ability. It’s just that ability is stunted because of his mother’s interference. I consider Volumnia the villain of the piece, as, in the words of one critic, she blithely turns her son over to be executed in order to save herself/Rome.)

  2. Galadriel says:

    I write stuff that almost gets there, but then it rockets out of it.

  3. Here’s a curious question. What about a character who sacrifices all and doesn’t live to see the reults or is separated and will never know, but then the view switches to the other and you see the true effect he left behind and the change and that he really did succeed even, maybe without realizing it. Or maybe he guessed it and held a tiny bit of hope but couldn’t see it and the story didn’t turn out how you thought, even a little sad cause he didn’t see the results, but still on a hopeful note as he left an impact. I call that bittersweet. Do people tend to like those stories?

    • I think that you need to make sure it isn’t the main character that does that, or have an ensemble cast of characters. Again, look at Hamlet.

      I think people like those kind of stories, the question is, will they BUY them?

  4. And how far can we allow everything to go wrong before we yank them out of it? Would you say there are certain boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed?

    • Yes, I would say that letting evil triumph is a boundary. People want SOME character in the story to live ‘happily ever after’ and I know personally that people are tired of “and they all died horrible deaths on their own and went into outter darkness and were forgotten’

Be brilliant, be peculiar, be peculiarly brilliant.

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