Thursday, March 5, 2015


I like the show The Walking Dead.  Those who think it's a show about zombies are missing out on the larger memes it hits on - survival, the savagery of human nature in primal form, what's really family, and so on.  The more grand visions associated with it are what makes it work on so many levels.

Unfortunately, there are also things about it I don't like, and the complete and utter misery without relief is the biggest.  While I get the need to have the characters face adversity so there are challenges they can overcome, there's never a payoff that lets you feel good about them and what they're going through.

When a reader or viewer gets emotionally attached to a character, he or she wants the best for that character.  We cheer their triumphs and laments their hardships, but most of us want them to eventually find happiness.  Yes, there are some hardcore fanatics out there who want nothing but despair, but the vast majority of us want that despair to turn into greater victory in the end.

The Walking Dead never quite seems to get there.  Rick Grimes and the others find Hershel's farm as a place of refuge, only to see it overrun by the living dead.  They find some solace in Woodbury...only to discover that the guy who runs it is a psychopathic nut job with a penchant for zombie fights.  They finally make it to Terminus...and they discover that its inhabitants want to place them on the dinner menu.

It's becoming tedious.  Johnny Carson once said that the longer the joke, the bigger the payoff has to be.  The Walking Dead is about to reach the point where no payoff will suffice.  Contrast this with Supernatural, the series about a pair of monster hunters that help protect people from real monsters on our planet.  Yes, Sam and Dean Winchester encounter hardship, like the time Dean got sent to Hell for saving his brother's life, but there's usually some sort of triumph that gives you hope.  There may not yet be an ultimate payoff - likely that'll be saved for the series finale - but you get doses that life isn't meant to be totally shitty.

As writers, we need to keep this in mind.  Our readers will put up with a lot when it comes to what we do to their favorite characters, but they'll only allow it to go so far before they'll put down our stuff.  I have to remember this since my desire to keep things as real as possible lends itself to some terrible stuff.  However, most folks want a "happy ending."  You can do this and maintain fidelity to your story, but you have to focus on it.  If you always go down that dark alley, readers will eventually stop going down it with you.

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