Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Guest Post with author AJ Norfield

Do tragic endings make a story better? by AJ Norfield
Recently, I came across a discussion; if people liked a tragic ending of the protagonist/book and if that added value to the story. Opinions, to say the least, were quite diverse. A number of readers preferred to have a happy ending; there’s enough suffering in the world as it is. While others thoroughly enjoyed a good cry at the end of a book and felt it gave the story more “weight”. The discussion lingered in my mind for some time, mostly circling around the question: Why?

Why would such a sad ending be appealing to any of us? Do we, as humans, like to feel sad? I don’t think so. Do we secretly hope we’re strong enough to make the same difficult choices the protagonist makes? Maybe…

I believe to answer such a question one has to dive back into the past, to a point where we were still children and the world around us was fully shaping your sense of value and sense of self.

As you grow up most of us learn to put in effort in order to receive reward. This can be external rewarding—good job! Here have a cookie!—or internal rewarding by feeling proud and fulfilled for achieving something. Soon enough our brains are confused to link your sense of self or the value you give yourself, by what you achieve and not just by being. The bigger the effort, the bigger the pay-off…be it feelings or materialistic. If that’s the correct way to live is a discussion for a whole other time.

Note: Personally I believe everyone should strive for fulfillment—if striving for anything at all—as external rewarding too often has a tendency to corrupt the most honest intentions.
Taking our past in mind one could say the groundwork to enjoy a (well-crafted) tragic ending has been laid down for years. Similar to how one might judge your own value by the effort made for achieving something, a reader tends to judge the protagonist on the effort (s)he has to put in to overcome the presented obstacles. If such effort puts their life on the line, the stakes are raised and the experience only becomes more intense. A tragic ending of the hero, does not diminish the effort that was made.

But why would one feel good about feeling sad? Well, sadness is an emotional exhaust, allowing us to deal with the limitations and tragedies in our life; to let go and accept those things that bother us. It's also a form of stress reliever. In my mind, the combination of those two factors, can help prepare you better for, and thus take on, the challenges that cross your path later. And the “great” thing is, crying about something else can actually help deal with your own sad emotions, even if they’re from a completely different origin.

There’s been a lot of studies on crying, and not all aimed at the individual. In fact, feeling sad and crying is proven to bring people closer together—shared sorrow is half a sorrow. Crying invites support, interest and a level of intimacy, which brings people closer to each other. This happens on such a level that it’s argued that crying helps build and maintain communities and/or societies. Have you ever noticed how you appreciate those that you love more when you read an emotional book, hear an emotional song or watch an emotional movie? It’s in our DNA.

Readers wise this means by feeling those intense emotions, you share the sorrow with the characters in the story and thus feel even closer to them than before. And, since the level of engagement and emotion is often used to judge the value of a story, it means the deeper connection will aid in giving a higher value to the book.

For writers it’s important to connect with readers on such depth, that they care about the characters in the book. That they feel for them, or at least have a feeling about them; like a villain you hate or are disgusted by. The writer puts a small piece of him in each of his characters. By making the reader care about the protagonist’s well-being, I believe a bond is forged between the audience and writer—without ever meeting face to face. Of course there’s more to it; for example at the same time the reader’s curiosity needs to be fed on how the hero will overcome the faced obstacles. But, if a reader can’t connect with the character that curiosity will be difficult to create.

So now we have a few elements that, when put together, form the ability to let someone enjoy a tragic event: First the effort or sacrifice—that pays off—should be present, second the emotional programming in our DNA to process disappointment/stress/grief, and last, the evolutionary aspect to feel the relief of sharing our sorrow and connect intimately with those we’re able to share it with. Combined they form the perfect mixture of fulfillment, emotion and release, in order to enjoy a non-happy ending.

And the question if a tragic ending makes a story better? Well, that’s personal isn’t it? It might even differ per experience for the same person, but I do believe a tragic ending has the ability to touch one’s heart on a deeper level. And I, as a writer, definitely cherish the emotions we can all feel as humans. After all, emotions are what makes us human, right?

What’s your opinion? Is there another influence that allows us to enjoy tragedy? Do you enjoy a tragic end of your heroes? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author:

A.J. Norfield lives with his loving family on land but below sea level. He tries not to worry too much about climate change and the melting of the polar ice caps. His wife and two rascals of children keep him engaged and grounded in life while he pursues goals of publishing a story that has been stuck in his head for years.

As a longtime forest and mountain enthusiast, he often wonders about his flat surroundings and how to escape them. In his free time, if available at all, he enjoys a wide variety of gaming, reading/writing, drawing and socializing. His interest in (dragon-fantasy) novels has followed him throughout his life ever since he was young enough to read. It was this interest—with a number of broken nights thanks to his daughter’s sleeping schedule—that eventually lead to his current undertaking to write his own dragon-fantasy series ‘The Stone War Chronicles’ and put it out into the world.

Inspired by established names like Anne McCaffrey, Terry Goodkind and Naomi Novik—to name only a few of many—he is ready to show the world what he has to offer.A.J. Norfield is the author of Windcatcher, an action-packed dragon adventure in the genre of epic fantasy. Windcatcher is the first book in a newly published series called the Stone War Chronicles, with book II planned to be released later this year.

Note: Curious to see if Windcatcher has a tragic end to deal with? You’ll have to find out yourself! The book is available as eBook or paperback on amazon, and even FREE on Kindle Unlimited. Get it now!

1 comment:

  1. And guess what: My Goodreads Giveaway for a SIGNED Paperback is currently running till the 4th of July 2016:
    Windcatcher Giveaway