So I just watched the latest Trope Talk by Overly Sharkastic Productions on Youtube (high recommend if you aren't already subscribed). The focus was on Doomed Heroes, and there's not much I'd be able to add to that comprehensive essay. Go watch it.
What it did inspire me to talk about though was the concept of the silver lining in a plot or a character, or even the overall story. Not only connected to a doomed hero (a character destined to die from the beginning of the story but who gets a different type of win in exchage, so to speak, for their demise) and not only in tragic stories, but in general.
What constitutes a silver lining in the first place?
It's of course, that sliver of hope, that tiny chance of improvement or shot at happier times when something bad occurs. The bad thing doesn't need to be tragic (like death or something equally existentially final) but it does need to be life changing in some way for the silver lining to be meaningful.
For example, a lighthearted silver lining is in The Sound of Music movie when Maria is tossed out of the convent to go be a governess to a truckload of kids. She hates it. She feels like she's cast away from the place she considers her home. The people she considers family have turned their face from her. She faces the unknown, and her life is going to drastically change from an event that causes her grief.
We are not sorry. We know this is going to lead to better things. But Maria doesn't know it. To build herself up she has to construct a silver lining out of nothing. With the line “when God closes a door, somehow He opens a window” and then the “I have confidence in me” song, she compels herself to find a smidge of a path out of her dire situation.
In other cases, the silver lining is for the audience rather than the characters (unlike in the instance with Maria). When a character dies but we find out they have offspring (or offspring in the making), we feel somewhat soothed: a part of the character will live on through that child. That may not cause joy or be uplifting for any other character, but it gives the audience respite.
Such silver linings are efficient ways to keep the audience engaged after a particularly nasty gutpunch (though it won't work if that's the only appeal to engagement thereafter).
In the end, the silver lining is really about pushing through the odds with something that has been earned, rather than gifted. The character may have become emotionally scarred but they have also become wise and powerful, able to save the world (or whatever the stakes are). The world may be shattering and coming apart, but it will give rise to something better. The characters might all be dead, but they are together/happy/in a better place and haven't looked back. And so on.
The silver lining is emotional reward for the pain we experience through a story- and perhaps also in real life, sometimes.
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 12, 2022
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