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The Silver Lining

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 12, 2022

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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bravo1102 at 11:44PM, Nov. 12, 2022

I've watched too many war movies. The silver lining is surviving or if you don't making sure the maximum amount of your friends and buddies survive. Read the award citations of those who gave it all. Amazing how often they did it so others would live. You meet a big guy who gets shot up just because he just saw someone needed help. Helping others is the silver lining. May be a couple of days late but that's part of what Remembrance/Veterans Day is about. You are the silver lining they're willing to give it all to protect.

hushicho at 9:49PM, Nov. 12, 2022

Quite frankly, if a character is only invented to be killed off, it's a manipulative stunt I don't approve of and will not invest in. Added to that, I don't buy the "lives on through their straight people baby daddy business" -- if a person is going to try these writing stunts, they'd better bring something of a higher quality than that sophomoric shenanigans. Maybe that would work for a basic mainstream scrub audience, but I have no time for it anymore, especially after the last couple of years in general.

PaulEberhardt at 11:01AM, Nov. 12, 2022

These silver linings are also subject to contemporary trends. For instance, heroically dying or suffering for a noble cause used to be such a "silver lining" - if I understood this correctly. William Wallace in Braveheart sacrifices himself for "Freeeeeedom!" - this has been sufficiently covered here, I think - the second Terminator sent back in time melts himself to prevent Skynet from ever existing, that old guy in Independence Day flies into the city-destroying giant UFO weapon to make it blow up... and all three examples are from the 90s or 80s. After 9/11 spectacular self-sacrifice for anything was rather unpopular in movies, at least that's the way it seemed to me for some time. If it hasn't, it'll sure come back, though, because ever since there have been apocalytic stories like John's Revelation or the twilight of the Gods in the Edda things like this have stood for renewal, possibly to address the primordial fear of change we humans seem to have built in.

usedbooks at 4:05AM, Nov. 12, 2022

Just happened with a jrpg game my brother and I were playing yesterday. There was an awesome side character who was very wise and a grounding presence. Almost as soon as we met him, my bro and I agreed he was going to die early on. Lol. And he did. After we met his son. Then the son joined our party. Too predictable really. I'm not familiar with tropes, but there must be one for "too good to live"

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