Aug. 16th, 2016

ljlee: (jz_tears)
[personal profile] ljlee
Today I revisited this post that discussed why movies like Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange don't really work as stories advocating the author's intended morality while Mad Max: Fury Road does. (Fight Club spoilers and Fury Road plot points at the link.) To cut a long story short, though I think the whole thing is worth a read, the poster who discussed Fury Road had this to say:

The thing is that the narrator is always sympathetic. Intimacy and familiarity breed sympathy. The audience is primed to feel sympathy for the narrator simply because they are speaking more than any other individual character.

No matter how unreliable, or morally dubious you make the narrator, they are still the hero or the story. Every villain is the hero of their own story. And when the villain is the narrator, the audience is hearing the version of the story in which the villain is the hero, and the audience is moved by that perspective.

Do you agree with this? Have you experienced it? The thing is, I'm struggling with this to an extent with my own work in progress. Though the bulk of my story is told from the viewpoint of morally sympathetic characters, I do have major morally gray or evil characters whom the story follows for a while and who have reasons of their own for the atrocities they commit. I'm actually hoping the reasons will be sympathetic, not to justify their actions but to show that it's everyday human beings, not incomprehensible monsters, who commit terrible acts. I'm pretty sure it'll still read as justification to a fair portion of the audience, though. Heck, even Immortan Joe from Fury Road has his defenders, so obviously even effectively written morality won't get through to 100% of the audience.

One way I think (hope) the narrative sympathy effect might be overcome is by showing the full impact of the immoral in-story actions and to give victims more narrative time and weight than the villains, making them and not the villains the protagonists. One way I think that morality in stories fail is when the story agrees implicitly with the villains' logic that their victims are objects to be used and discarded rather than people in their own right, by reducing victims to objects to be ogled rather than agents in their own stories. Maybe the problem with story morality is not that villains get to tell their stories but that the victims don't.

I'm not entirely sure about any of this, these are just hypotheses I'm turning over in my mind and the proof will be in the writing--and more importantly, in the reception. I'd welcome any thoughts on this.

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