That moment where you’re innocently watching your favorite show or reading your favorite book series and then it happens. you stare at the page/screen in abject horror. You slam the book shut, you shut your laptop. You yell “How could this happen!” You scream.
Because what just happened was they did something you never saw coming and you felt in your bones was a bad idea even if you did.
Now you’re left with that strange phenomenon known as Character Grief.
Actually I just made up that term just now, but it’s a thing.
It’s not a fun condition, but not everyone suffers from it. Here’s a way to rate yourself.
1-5: If you are mildly annoyed, and tell your friends or family it was stupid, but other than that you don’t do much.
5-10: You cry and can’t bear to continue, or you cry and then re-watch or reread said materiel over and over again because it’s cathartic, and tell your friends because misery loves company.
10-15: You give up the material in favor of less infuriating entertainment and proceed to tell everyone else it’s no longer worth their time.
15-20: You get so upset that you figure out ways to solve what happened and fan fic your way to mental peace. Extra points if you convince your family or friends to join you.
And extra points if you do every single one of these things. Like I do. Except cry, I rarely do that.
Character grief is different form plot frustration. It’s more personal. It sticks you in your craw and wounds you to your whimsical/imaginative core.
I think Character Grief happens in one of three ways.
- The least painful, most annoying way is when your favorite character simply is left out or disappears from the story. This can happen with books made into movies, like how Tom Bombadil got left out of Lord of The Rings. And all my favorite characters got left out of the second Anne of Green Gables movie.
- The most painful, actual death. I mean unforeseen, or totally unwanted character death. It feels unnecessary and it leaves you sad for days. Probably you can’t even go back to the story without crying or reliving those emotions.
- The last way is the most poisonous, but that does make it easier to be mad about and less sad. It’s when a character is radically changed for the worst. They could turn evil (like Ever After High), or they could lose their most lovable personality traits. This happens a lot with the books to movies thing , but it also happens when new writers or producers take over, or the creators stop caring for whatever reason. Like Shrek: the Final Chapter. The change is usually brought on by the character doing something they would never actually do if you went by previous traits they exemplified. The action violates their moral code, and they haven’t been brainwashed or anything that would make it seem reasonable.
The last two bother me way more than the first one. And I take it hard. I can’t just quit the thing like some folks who don’t get involved.
So I though I’d write this post to speculate about why Character Grief happens. There’s probably research on it out there, but it’s tricky to explain because every person is different.
The first thing that shocks you about character grief is that it feels like real grief. Though a part of you remains separate from it because you know they cough* aren’t cough* real. (Angry gasps form people who’ve felt this before.) yet you still feel sad, mad, and in denial just like when real grief strikes.
Actually, with real grief I tend to go numb. A part of me just can’t believe it really happened. Even when I accept it, I don’t feel strong, out of control emotions. I don’t sink into depression. somehow I distance myself form loss. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I’m learning to explore those emotions more.
But character grief has a way of cutting through my defenses. Much the way spiritual things do. It’s almost like when I can see and hear the loss, and it affects my physical world, I handle it. But when I can’t, and it doesn’t seem to, then I get cut to the quick.
With real loss, I feel the unfairness and helplessness people talk about.
With loss in imaginary things, I feel like my heart got ripped out.
I think partly because in fiction, you see people more clearly than in real life. There’s less sin and misunderstanding to cloud your vision. You just see them s people.
Maybe if in real life we could be that honest with each other, caring would be easier.
because to be honest, we make it hard for people to love us, don’t we?
I know I can be difficult. The people who love me most are the ones I can’t hide from as well.
With strangers we are on our best behavior, but do we really connect with people until we know they’re flawed and we accept them anyway?
I love characters who are better than me because I can see them just as people, I don’t have to worry about them doing wrong that I’ll have to fight against. IF they do slip up, I know they’ll recover.
The people in my life who I know will pick themselves up after they fall are the ones I trust the most.
In fiction, losing that person, whether to bad writing, or to a tragic end even if it is well written, can feel like losing a friend.
People have always thought those who have imaginary characters as friends were kind of odd. But I think we have them because they have more of the author’s soul than we might see if we just met the person. When we can get our cumbersome flaws and failings out of the way through our creativity, we see each other better.
Not that it always goes well, but fiction fans live off the times that it does.
Some other time I’ll talk about how character grief can also teach us about hope, but I’m out of time for now, until next post–Natasha.