This week I was treated to a massive dose of sanity threatening emotional issues. Some were happening in real life, the rest happened in two of my favorite fandoms. I won’t bore you with my real life issues that involve being pregnant and having to move. However, I was rather surprised by the strength of my reaction to two different story plots. It led me to wonder what causes us readers to become so emotionally invested in characters that we weep over them as though they were real.
The first thing I realized was that each story line was excellently crafted, the characters expertly fleshed out and realistic. The fact that both subplots that emotionally devastated me were romantic ones is nothing short of ironic. I am not a romantic person. Ask anyone who knows me personally. Typical romances bore me to tears.
So how did these characters manage to drag me into the narrative and hold me there over months? Lets look at them.
Let Your Light Shine
First I will discuss Green Lantern: The Animated Series since that was the first blow to hit last Saturday when the final episode aired. Just the fact it was cancelled after one season was harsh enough. Then I had to deal with the tragedy that was affectionately referred to by fans as Razaya.
Over the course of the season we watched Razor grow and change and fall in love with the ship’s AI, Aya. Both characters started out seemingly one dimensional but very quickly we were treated to various aspects of their personalities. Razor grew from being the angry Red Lantern to a multidimensional, complex and conflicted individual. Aya quickly went from the ship’s navigation computer to a full fledged member of the team. Both made misjudgments said things that were taken wrong and just generally where adorable together. All you have to do is search Tumblr for the tag #Razaya to see how much the fans loved this pairing.
There was a lot to love about it. It was realistically portrayed and organically developed over the length of the series. Even the creators were surprised at how loved the two became. So how did they achieve it?
More on that in a moment. Now on to the second source of my woe.
Never Let You Go
As many of you know, I am a huge Transformers fan and have been reading the current IDW Publishing series Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. The past Wednesday the newest issue, #15, was released. I had been dreading this issue. Mostly because I knew the happy times were over and things were going to get bad. People were going to die. And they did. Horribly in some cases and horribly tragic in others. (If you have not read the series, please go do so as from here on there will be major spoilers. You can find the entire run on Comixology.)
One pairing I’ve spoken about before, Chromedome and Rewind pretty much took center stage this issue. Mostly due to Chromdome’s involvement in the accidental release of the unstoppable and extremely deadly Overlord. In a scant thirty minutes the entire crew of the Lost Light is subjected to his murderous rampage. He is only slowed when Rhodimus utters a trip phrase that Chromedome had implanted in his subconscious. Fortress Maximus, having been released from the brig by Rung, drags Overlord back to the temporal prison he’d escaped from. It is at this time that Chromedome decides that having the Phase Sixer anywhere near them, even in a prison cell, is too close and goes to jettison the cell. Except a sword is preventing the mechanism from closing. Rewind, Chromedome’s life partner, sacrifices himself to get the doors closed and ends up trapped in the cell, floating in space with Overlord.
It’s at this point that Chromedome realizes that Overlord is going to kill Rewind in the slowest and most painful way possible and does the only thing he can think of to spare his lover any more pain.
This panel still makes me tear up. These two had a very long history together, had been by each other’s sides when they faced death, fought together, with each other and generally behaved like any other loving married couple. The writer, James Roberts, skillfully wove their relationship into the narrative while developing their personalities and backstory.
Forever and Always
In both of these cases the writers took great pains to make sure the characters were realistic and relatable None of the characters are human. Yet we the reader/viewer find ways to identify with them. Maybe it’s Razor’s rage and inability to control it or Aya’s need to be accepted as her own person. Or it could be Chromedome’s desire to be useful. Or even Rewind’s desperation to keep Chromedome safe and healthy when his line of work is so dangerous and mentally detrimental. It could be all or none of these things. Either way, most of us have faced something similar at some time in our life and it is by tapping into this that the writers help us to understand and sympathize with the characters.
They created people, not just characters. Each of them had their own motivations, goals, dreams and flaws. They each acted and reacted according to what happened around them, just as we all do. They had emotional, sometimes visceral reactions that ended up leading them to make wrong and in two cases, deadly choices.
We as writers must always strive to give our reader as much emotional input as possible in our stories. It would be a disservice to our readers to do other wise. We owe it to them to help them not just empathize, but sympathize with our characters. Too laugh and cry along with them. In doing so we build not just an artificial world, but a reader who is capable of much greater sympathy out in the real world.
- Interview: Giancarlo Volpe discusses ‘Green Lantern: The Animated Series’ (comicvine.com)
- Transformers, Sex and Why Science Fiction is Socially Relevant (sorrows-fall.com)
- Watch A Clip From ‘Green Lantern: The Animated Series” Final Episode (geek-news.mtv.com)