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Being “Broken”

There was a bit of a to do over at Wyrdsmiths over the “lie” of epiphany and cathartic healing. Elizabeth Bear had posted her thoughts on seeing it in stories–namely that it makes her blood boil, since it just isn’t true. There are some good responses in the Wyrdsmith’s post and in the comments.

I’m not sure mine was entirely relevant to the discussion at hand. It was more a reaction to the pervasive idea among lit’rary types that good things happening in stories are either less artistic or less “true” than bad events. This idea bothers me, in part, because it doesn’t fit my world view. It also implies either that everyone reads for one reason (to experience Art) or that reading for pleasure, comfort or escape is less worthy. I guess if writers want to restrict their audiences that way, it’s up to them. I see these discussions as a flag for writers whose works I’m unlikely to enjoy.

Completely aside from artistic arguments, one thing I noticed in the debate was a difference in the use of the idea of “broken” characters. It’s pretty common to hear writers talking about the ways in which their characters are broken. After all, too perfect characters gall quickly (my main problem with Princess Academy). But it became apparent that those of us talking about the issue were once again divided by our common language.

On one hand were the posters who thought broken simply meant not whole or fully functional. The CD keeps skipping fresh out of the box. On the other were those who felt that broken meant, literally, someone who had been whole at one point and had been cracked or shattered. And the second point of view had simply never occurred to me before.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. There’s a cult of childhood in our society. This should logically mean that some people enjoyed their childhoods. Presumably some of them even made it into adulthood without major trauma, with most of the skills they need to thrive in adult society until something big whacks them hard. But it’s so alien to my past, thinking about people this way makes them feel less real to me.

I started with a couple of handicaps. I picked up more along the way. Fixing broken could never mean returning to an ideal starting state. It meant filling in the gaps, gaining skills that allowed me to patch the problems. Admittedly, I call this being defective, not broken, but it’s the lens through which I’ve always seen the brokenness of my characters.

I guess it’s time to learn a new set of characterization skills.