Meditations on Realistic Entertainment

“I don’t want my show/book/movie to explore real stories! I watch TV/read books/go to the movies to get away from real life!”

This is a constant whine that unfortunately any storyteller has to contend with. After all, it is a valid point. There is nothing wrong with wanting escapism. There is nothing wrong with not enjoying something because it is too realistic, too personal, or not what you were looking for. I personally find that I have missed out on many good films because they weren’t what I wanted to watch on a Friday night, and I have made my peace with that. Others, while they might be fine stories, are not entertaining to me at all (gross-out comedy, horror & shock thrillers in particular), so I don’t watch them, no matter how realistic or not they are. One has to pick and choose one’s entertainment, be it music, television, film, books, theatre, or sport, as there is simply too much for one person to consume it all.

At the same time, whining that something is too realistic so that it is “ruined” is childish. (This is especially noticeable with a television or book series, where audiences get invested in the story over time and numerous changes occur, rather than a one-off story that is consumed at once.) Notice how in the quote at the beginning, the complainer says “my show”? Whenever I hear that, I wonder whose story they think it is. Who has the writing credit? Who authored the novel that got turned into a mini-series? Who created the story to begin with? Who is the storyteller?

Let’s face it, if we’re watching or reading something, we are the audience, not the storyteller. Even if we don’t like the direction that the story takes, and even if we are legitimately concerned for its viability, we are not responsible for it. Sometimes, there is a plan already in place and the writers are taking us on a journey that will pay off if we are patient. Sometimes, writers were just exploring a fun idea. Sometimes, writers actually know the characters better than the audience (especially if those characters are their own creations!) and want their story to reflect the choices that the characters would make, not those that the audience wants them to make.

That doesn’t mean one’s opinion counts for nothing. Write a different ending, an extra scene, another story entirely…stop watching or reading altogether if that really makes one feel better. Whining and stomping off, loudly declaring that you will never watch a show or read a series again, does nothing. In all likelihood, others will simply shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes. Your favourite show is ruined? Bully for you. Find something else. You’re never going to read the earlier books in a series again because the author ruined it by not supporting the romantic pairings you wanted? That’s nice. The book sale is looking for donations.

This comes back to conflicting issues about realism. One person’s realism is another person’s escape. For example, a person who lives in relative comfort in suburban North America might want to “escape” to slums halfway around the world. A person who lives in the middle of a densely populated city might want to “escape” to open grasslands. Someone who is in a happy marriage might want to “escape” to a story starring a character with no attachments. An only child might want to “escape” to a story about a family with many children. Many people from the year 2018 want to “escape” to various points in the past. In other words, a story might be too realistic for one person, but very interesting to another. Not everything is made for everyone.

Others want to see characters realistically solve problems in the hope that it inspires them to solve their own similar issues. Examples are stories about children coping with their parents’ divorce in a realistic manner (not whimsically making them fall back in love again), stories about couples grieving the loss of a child, and the many variations on characters losing everything to war, poverty, bad choices, or natural disaster. While some may find these stories too heartbreaking to watch, others find them inspiring, feel better about their own situation, or see the characters as people that they can sympathise with. Sometimes, seeing favourite characters go through tragedy and grow from it is simply “one more adventure” that the audience ends up enjoying as part of a bigger story.

Finally, we have the fact that our suspension of disbelief only goes so far. Even fantastical settings need to have some elements of realism. Swashbuckling pirate films may involve supernatural curses, anachronisms, and actions sequences that defy the laws of physics, but we expect the setting to be grimy! Time travel may exist in a story’s universe, but we expect that the characters from the past are going to act like they are actually from the past. (Although, admittedly, sometimes our ideas about the past are wrong.) We expect characters who don’t work to be strapped for cash, not living in fancy apartments. We do want our romantic leads to have chemistry with each other – heck, we even want the romantic spares to have some sort of interaction that would lead us to think that they could get together! Otherwise, what is supposed to be entertaining ends up seeming fake.

And that’s just it – the complaints that a story is “too realistic” come from the same people who complain that other elements of the story are “too silly”.

Ultimately, if I want something to turn out exactly the way that I want it, I have to write that story myself.

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This entry was posted in Books, Films, Katy Pontificates, Katy Rants, Television, YA Lit & Films and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Meditations on Realistic Entertainment

  1. Pingback: Musings On Fanciful Hagiographies | Katy by the Fireplace

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