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What's the appeal of so much pain?

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LJ Cohen

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There will not be any specific spoilers to Game of Thrones material here, though I will talk about the show in general ways.

I don't actively watch GoT. My husband follows the show, so I tend to hang out in the living room and either knit or work on my laptop during it. There is a lot to appreciate about the series, not the least of which is its production values. But I don't enjoy it.

There's a critical difference between stories that show characters battling darkness (internal or external) and finding their triumph versus stories that glorify pain.

I don't enjoy the latter. Not to read. Not to watch. Not to write.



When I was in my teens/20's, I read a lot of dark stuff and loved it. (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant comes to mind.) Now, it just magnifies the dark I've experienced. Over the past several decades, I've lived through the slow decline of my mother's mind and her eventual death from complications of dementia. Helped my father through his end of life journey when 7 years of dialysis were too much for him to bear. Mourned so many loved ones. Escaped a burning house with my family and the clothes on our backs. Experienced great disappointments and great pain. Nearly lost a dear one to suicide.

The longer I've lived, the more pain I've experienced and witnessed in my life. And the less I want to find that kind of pain in what I read and watch for entertainment. 

It's why I can watch a zillion versions of Twelfth Night or Two Gentlemen of Verona, but I don't think I can ever sit through another King Lear.



I recently saw The Ferryman on Broadway with some friends. It was a masterful performance that left me reeling. It was like King Lear meets Ethan Fromme and as incredible as the play, the staging, the acting were, the ending was a gut punch. Not a sucker punch, thankfully, because the show laid enough foreshadowing that you knew it wasn't going to end well.

I don't think I would have chosen to go to this show on my own. It was recommended to me as a writer by a writer friend I trust. And yes, on a craft level, there was a lot to learn and absorb from The Ferryman.

While I don't regret seeing it, I don't need to ever see it again. And thank the gods of writing that there was humor and lightness in the play, because otherwise, it would have been unwatchable.


It's not that I want false cheer in my entertainment. I enjoy cotton candy or peeps now and again, but that does not a healthy diet make.

I don't understand the appeal of so much pain. It's why I never read past GRRM's first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Not because it was poorly written - it wasn't. I've often said you could run a masterclass on writing point of view using that first story.

It was because the pain depicted became (for me) the point of the story, rather than a part of the story.

I will never write that kind of unremitting darkness anymore. I have several trunked novels that will never see the light of day because they are full of pain for no other reason than I had internalized a lot of stuff from my early reading.

My stories have pain and sadness in them; that's part of life and I don't want to shy away from expressing a full range of human emotions in my work. But, even Pandora found hope after freeing all the misery and evil trapped in the box. 

If you enjoy SF&F stories with some hope and endings that leave the characters transformed, but not tortured, I have a bunch you might like. You can check them out on my website. 




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