A big compliment any artist, whether an author, musician, actor, what have you can get from an audience is being told ‘I haven’t *insert emotion here*!’ In other words, you made me feel. Usually this is a good thing especially if eliciting that particular emotion was the goal. Sometimes, though, a fan or group of fans can get too emotionally invested in a character or story to the point it clearly clouds their ability to function.
First off, I’m not one of those people who gets easily offended nor do I easily cry or get angry. However, it is relatively easy to make me laugh but to elicit tears or well-placed anger in me is hard to do. I’m not quite sure what specifically triggers it. Sometimes it depends on where I’m at in my life; I could be more or less sensitive to certain emotions. For example, in The Wedding Singer, I cry every time at the end when Adam Sandler’s character sings that song to Drew Barrymore’s. But there are loads of times I don’t cry when I know I am expected to cry. Did I cry during Titanic? Yes, but it had nothing to do with Jack and Rose. I lost it in the scene of the musicians continuing to play and entertain even as the ship was ripped apart. Don’t think James Cameron meant for that to happen.
Movies and TV shows don’t generally cause me to emotional however books do. Whilst reading the series A Song of Ice and Fire there were many times that I not only cried but I went ‘Holy Sh*t!’ Yet in that series the one section known as The Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords that I’ve heard of many, many people who not only cried but also threw the book across the room, I didn’t react. In that case I think it was because of who was involved in that scene because I certainly have reacted the way the author intended at many other points in the narrative.
Harry Potter is another series that has brought out strong emotions in me. I absolutely lost it when Harry sees his parents in a special mirror in the first book and I cried not when Dumbledore died, but when Snape did because the reader, along with Harry, had just learned Snape’s childhood friendship with Harry’s mother. Damn you Rowling for making a grown woman cry reading a children’s series!
These are just a couple of examples but ones, which to me, are a sign of excellent writing because all of the characters and situations feel real. I appreciate that. Interestingly enough while I relish realism in my fiction it is that same realism that can cost an author readers. According to one of the talks George R.R. Martin gave this past weekend at ConCarolinas, years ago he received an e-mail from a reader. This now former reader eloquently told him that she couldn’t continue reading his work because it was just too real for her, too bleak because her real life was rough and books were her opportunity to escape. He e-mailed her back explaining her understood where she was coming from and thanked her for a being a reader and wished her luck. As a writer, he knows, as most writers do (or should) that with each story you will gain and lose readers.
While it’s great to become emotional and attached to a character or story, a phenomenon I’ve become aware of the last few years has to do more with what I consider to be overinvested reactions, usually with TV shows or movies. By overinvested reactions I’m referring to the people I’ve interacted with online who became almost hysterical at the conclusion of season 3 of Sherlock. Or who if you mention the name Steven Moffat, one of the show runners/writers for Doctor Who and Sherlock, just watch the kind of violent nerd rage that conjures up in some people and the endless debate that ensues. Or one who sends an author a nasty letter because your favorite character died. It’s one thing to be shocked or upset by the turn of events but to be violently outraged to the point you think the writers have somehow personally offended you tells me that perhaps you need to step back.
Whether it is a book, TV show, or movie, it is vitally important to keep in mind a few things:
1) It is a work of fiction, it is not real. Yes, the characters and situations may be intended to reflect as much of real life as possible but it is not real life.
2) If you don’t like something you can either stop reading or watching it. Simple as that. Not everyone likes everything and if you find yourself getting to a boiling rage point then you need to move onto something else. Getting into arguments with people who disagree isn’t going to help either side.
3) If you disagree with how it was written then take the opportunity to tap into your inner writer and do something better. I think if more people took the time to try and write what they would consider a more satisfying story they would see just how difficult it is. What makes sense to you doesn’t necessarily make sense to someone else.
4) How a character acts should be viewed through the lens of that character not you as the audience. What we would personally do in that situation is not what the character should do. Do those actions make sense for the character?
5) Revisit point #1 if you still aren’t convinced.
At the end of the day this is entertainment and it is up to you, the audience, to decide what is best for you and how much emotional involvement you want to invest. Just be careful and not get so wrapped up in a world you give yourself an aneurysm or heart attack. That’s what sports are for.