Why a novel needs something that readers can believe in and root for

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Vague SPOILERS for Outlander (unless you’re current with the show) and possibly Poldark.

So this occurs to me as I watch Outlander (or actually, this week, the show is taking a break – please, someone, explain to me why a pre-recorded show needs to take a break, I can’t understand it! Why are they so mean to us?!) In Outlander, many bad things happen. There is the ongoing threat in the first season from Jonathan Randall, a series of awful things happen in Season 2, and then there are separations and various sad things happening in Season 3. (I’ve read the books, all the way up to the most recent, so I could go on, but you get the picture.) Why, then, do so many people love this show? There are various plausible reasons. Jamie Fraser. The beautiful, sweeping vistas – oh, wait sorry, I already mentioned Jamie Fraser. Scotland. Various, quite interesting and colourful characters (Angus, Murtagh, John Grey, Jenny, Fergus). But I’d say the one thing that makes this show (and the books) so addictive is that I really believe in Claire and Jamie. The way Diana Gabaldon has written this relationship, nothing can break it. Through ups and downs, and various awfulnesses, the love between them only grows stronger.

Compare this to Poldark. I was really into Poldark in the first season. Of course I was watching because of Ross Poldark at first (who wasn’t) but Demelza won me over with her singing and her vulnerable strength. But then Season 3 hit, that thing happened with Ross and Elizabeth and I totally lost interest in the show. Why? Because Poldark is one hell of a bleak, sad, bleak show. The only light in all this Cornish bleakness was Ross and Demelza’s relationship. Once that was shattered, there was actually nothing left to watch for.

Which makes me think, in all stories, we need something to believe in. In The Walking Dead, there is community, in Game of Thrones, there is – I’m not sure what, some characters that you really care for? Tyrion? Jon? Sometimes Dany? Always Arya? I’m really not sure what makes that show so crazy addictive. It’s the human version of catnip. But all of these epic stories have something in common – they give us something to root for, something in which our belief can endure.

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