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Negative Character Development (Continued)

March 4, 2016

This post came across my tumblr with ~150k notes:


My reply below:

wow, this is fascinating to me.

I have been noticing this trend in storytelling and didn’t know the word for it. It’s something I struggle with because I will read a book or watch a show and everything is top notch- I’m engaged, invested in the characters, the production is quality – but as the characters I care about keep getting worse, failing, or being victimized, I just experience despair, frustration, and even anger (at the author, the characters, the injustice of the story-world).

This is one of the reasons I hate Tarantino films- everyone is bad, horrific things happen indiscriminately, and the story has no obvious message or meaning. And it’s hailed as gritty, edgy, or “realistic.” It just makes me depressed.

Then there is Joe Abercrombie’s Fantasy trilogy book series “The First Law” which I adored, but quit in disgust and despair a third of the way through the final book. I kep hoping the characters would redeem themselves, but they kept letting me down. And despite the story being a masterpiece, I couldn’t take another book of disappointment.

I just recently quit Boardwalk Empire after the 6th episode for the same reasons.

So it intrigues me to see 100k+ people defend this kind of storytelling. Because I hate it in such a visceral way. But I suspect it’s a matter of perspective- that if I could just “get over” my expectations and need for resolution, I could enjoy these stories.

One of my mutuals, , replied with this interesting addition:

It’s something i’ve felt lately as well, and it turns out it’s a trope, Darkness-induced Audience Apathy. The American Horror Story series does this to me big time. I start out watching, then just stop caring.

Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy occurs when a conflict exists that simply lacks any reason for the audience to care about how it is resolved. This is often because the setting is extremely but meaninglessly Darker and Edgier, and/or all sides are abhorrently, equally evil—or at least, far enough gone that any difference between the two is splitting hairs. As such, consumers of media affected by Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy tend to approach conflict between parties or factions with remarkable indifference; because no matter who wins, the universe will still suck.

Very interesting. I think this describes my feelings towards Tarantino films or a show like Breaking Bad perfectly. And it helps reveal that I’m experiencing two distinct reactions to two distinct, but related, story types.

But in the case of The First Law trilogy or Boardwalk Empire, I’m genuinely invested in the characters, I care about them, and want them to succeed. It’s the opposite of apathy – and the despair I feel when the characters I love let me down and keep getting worse is what I can’t stand…

The comedy Anime Watamote ( No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!), also falls into this category. I like the character, want her to succeed, but she just continually fails, never grows as a character. This is more of a stagnation of character than “negative development” – and yet, my feeling towards the story is the same, frustration at the lack of conflict resolution in a story.

Surely this should be a trope as well?


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