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Friday, May 15, 2009: Thoughts on Prison Break finale and character death

Posted by nightphoenix on August 12, 2009 in Output |

Written just after watching the Prison Break finale. Was in a bit of a dark mood.

May 15, 2009: I read books as a writer, now, unfortunately…and it seems that I’ve begun watching shows this way too. Where you read (or watch), and you’re analyzing the plot, analyzing the characters’ strengths, weaknesses, moral dilemmas, analyzing how the writers are doing their jobs.

Now, the whole Kellerman rescue ending was nice and tidy…but faintly reeked of Deus ex Machina. All the pain they’ve gone through and this guy just appears out of nowhere and saves all of their arses? Just like that? *sigh* But honestly, I don’t know how they could possibly have wrapped up everything in two hours without either doing what they did, or killing everybody. Now I absolutely hate it when a work of fiction ends with everyone dying…makes me feel vaguely cheated. I mean, come on, if I’m going to get emotionally invested in these characters, I have a right to be upset if you kill them all at the end. So, of the two, I prefer the outside savior method.

The moment they revealed Sara’s pregnancy, as a writer I had a sinking suspicion that she was going to end up raising that baby alone. An instinct, perhaps…why pull her emotional investment away from Michael, unless he’s going to be out of the picture soon? The show has always been a little too gritty to support a happily ever after for everyone. I’m actually glad they didn’t take Michael out in a violent manner, although normally I’d rather the hero go out with guns blazing, metaphorically speaking. However, there’s a certain tragic irony to him succumbing to a brain tumor…his mind, his greatest asset, being what kills him. As a writer, I can appreciate that. Writers are cruel people, let me tell you.

Ramin Djawadi - Happily Ever After

Edit: Okay, so after I wrote this, I watched The Final Break (the hidden episodes that tell what happened in that four year period at the end of the TV finale). Turns out, Michael did go down with guns blazing, as I put it. But I believe he did that only because he knew the tumor was going to kill him anyway. If a man is doomed no matter what, I can understand why he would choose the more honorable death, saving the woman he loves and his unborn baby…rather than lingering on in a hospital bed. It was still cruel.

I still cried.

It got me thinking about something. Part of writing means you have to hurt the characters you love, and sometimes they have to die. I respect writers who can kill characters (and leave them dead). (I do not respect writers, however, who kill everybody in the end because it’s easier than resolving the plot, or because they think the quantity of deaths is going to create the emotional response. Action movies and books are, alas, rather prone to this…I’m glad they didn’t pull this card in Prison Break.) And yet, I can say things like, “I have to kill this character”…but…

Death is scary…emotional…difficult. Thinking about what it’s like, what it’s really like, to stand in front of a gravestone and know that a person is gone…that they exist now only in your memory. There’s no pain, no despair, quite like it. Singular. Exquisite. Humans have fought the specter of oblivion since the dawn of time. It’s our darkest fear. As a human being, I fear my own vulnerability to Death…but as a writer, I love it. That frightens me, a little bit.

Sure, I cried when I saw Michael’s gravestone, but still, there was a part of me that was pleased. The writer in me was satisfied over his death.

Ramin Djawadi - Free

I’ve killed characters in my fiction. And I’ll admit, it’s actually one of the most satisfying parts of the writing process. Not the death, but the powerful emotion behind it and created by it. I don’t just kill characters…I like killing characters, and doing it well. Making it mean something. Making it tragic. Making it cathartic. Making the characters that survive that much stronger.

In the story I’m writing right now, the body count is up to four, and two more are going down before the end. One of those is my main antagonist, who, next to my heroine, has the second largest spotlight in the novel. Actually, in all honestly, sometimes he eclipses her. I’ve always known he has to die, but I admit it’s been tempting to let him survive somehow…that’s how compelling he is to me. But I’m the writer, and he has to go down for the sake of the story.

But…what does that make me inside? What is the difference between me and a serial killer, save that I don’t pull the trigger in real life? I have a noble cause?

Nightphoenix (my writer self) is utterly ruthless…she takes pleasure in beating characters down and dredging their nobility out of the depths of their hopeless despair. Everything for the story. I know I’m not like that with real people, people I love…but occasionally I am brought face-to-face with the fact that there’s a part of me that takes pleasure in a good death.

Tonight was one of those nights, and I have to admit, it disturbed me a little.

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