Thursday, April 11, 2013

Are serials and executive contracts ruining storytelling?

It just hit me while reading this piece about Harry Potter that death or near death situations when applied to main characters lose their punch for a very simple reason: meta knowledge.

What I mean by this is that when Harry dies you know he's not really dead because the book continues. In a tv show, when a main character dies at the end of the episode you also know they're not really dead because the show has a contract for a full season. 

On the flipside, you know when it's "for real" when it's done right at the end of the season or book and you know there won't be more. 

I can't really analyze this very well, I'm not an expert in storytelling, but I do know that when I read or watch something that I know isn't over and a main character "dies" it loses much of its impact, because I know that wasn't what happened.

Same thing when we're lead to believe that the character IS dead but someone close to them keeps saying "he's not dead, I know it, I just know it!" Of course that character could be delusional and just not willing to let go, but experience tells me that at least 8/10 we should believe them.

Does it really affect the impact of a story? I personally think it does.

There is only one show that I've seen that actually subverts this and that is Spartacus. It's the only show I know where main characters die and stay dead. It has made me cry.