“Is it possible to read a story and not enter into it; to write a story and not become part of the script?”—Ravi Zacharias.
Isn’t it amazing how obsessed we can become with an ‘imaginary’ character?
I enjoy the BBC series Sherlock. I think it’s smart, snappy, suspenseful, and the actors are brilliant. But some people LOVE that show—they make Sherlock memes, Sherlock valentines, go to costumed Sherlock events, and write kinky Sherlock fan fiction. They masquerade as Sherlock and Watson by tweeting in character. Pretend long enough, and it becomes real, right?
Some girls dig Mr. Darcy and wish he was real, and in a moment of weakness I’ve probably done the same. I once cried because there were no men like Aragorn, Faramir and Eomir (from Lord of the Rings) in my neck of the woods.
In hindsight, that is probably for the best—the swords and all, but it’s hard not to fall for that kind of badassery.
Stories, whether on the page or screen, engage our imagination. In our minds, these people can be everything we want them to be. We can rewrite the sad endings, put the broken relationships back together, even insert ourselves into the story. As a novelist, I find I embody my characters and see through their eyes—like an actor, taking on the thoughts and intentions of her role.
But what if this becomes dangerous?
Ravi Zacharias, in his book Why Jesus, gives an extreme example:
In [The Dark Knight], award-winning actor Heath Ledger played the sinister role of the Joker with nearly satanic powers. Once again, you walked away from the movie thinking it was “just a movie.” But was it…?
In the real world, devoid of pretense, when the news of Heath Ledger’s sudden and mysterious drug-related death at the age of twenty-nine hit the news, the question being bandied about was whether his portrayal of the Joker had so overtaken his thinking that he couldn’t break free from the script of Batman. According to his co-actors and friends, Ledger ended up possessed by the Joker and unable to break free from the character, even away from the set… The sinister won the day and the Joker was no longer a phantom character, but was embodied away from the set with dire real-life consequences.
I got a taste of this phenomenon last winter. I was already suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly initialed ‘SAD’) when I began researching Post Traumatic Stress disorder to add depth to a character I was writing. Immersed in the stories of soldiers, whose lives had practically been stolen by this affliction, I began to wonder if I was writing myself deeper into depression. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was me or Liam (the affected character) who was screaming inside my head–a little melodramatic, but scary all the same.
This reminds me of my responsibility as an author: to speak truth, mindful that whatever I weave into my story has the potential to be expanded on the screen of the reader’s imagination. And also, to choose what I read, and what I view carefully—because unlike the ideas that are force-fed in a classroom, statements a movie or novel makes are insidious. They creep in slowly, and stick while we are still saying “it’s just entertainment.”
Is it just entertainment, or is it real? Ask the guy who tweets as Sherlock.