September 27th, 2019

Winter Sunlight

Thinking about hurt/comfort

When [personal profile] rachelmanija was here, we talked about hurt/comfort a lot (as you do) and the special frustration of being emotionally engaged in something where the author is clearly not into the hurt/comfort aspects nearly as much as the reader (me). The Matt Scudder books are like that -- it's not that nothing bad ever happens to him, the books are in fact an endless spiral of bad things happening to him, but it's handled in a way that usually doesn't quite get to where I want it to get to. The author is clearly not into it in the same way as I, for one, am into it.

I was thinking about it again recently because I was reading a long fanfic in which the author was clearly Not Into It in a similar kind of way, and it made me think about what it is that gives that Not Into It feeling. It's not that h/c has (or at least it doesn't have to have) endless descriptions of injuries and tending wounds -- in fact, a lot of it doesn't really deal with the details at all. But what it does have is that there's some kind of emotional crux or catharsis associated with people getting hurt. They don't just get hurt. Even if the getting hurt isn't the point of the story, as it is in a lot of h/c fanfic, it still reads as important. It might be used as an excuse for one character to realize how much they care, or just to freak out about the other one getting hurt; it might be the catalyst for an emotional conversation. But basically characters being hurt, physically or emotionally, is flagged as "important" in the text.

And being as it's something that I'm into, this is why it can be so monumentally frustrating when you have the setup for it and not the follow-through, because it feels like there's something missing; the emotional importance/crux-point/follow-up isn't there. I guess a similar situation might be the way that characters having sex is usually important to a relationship, so it would be like getting the buildup for sex, and then the sex happens off-camera and nothing actually changes; the characters just get on with their lives.

Which you can totally do, obviously! It just depends on what kind of story you're trying to tell. It's not a bad writing decision; it's just a matter of narrative focus and what the person writing it is into. But in the same way that lack of romantic follow-through on a romantic setup is frustrating to people who are specifically engaged in the romance aspects of the story, I think the lack of emotional "beats" hitting on the h/c is what's frustrating for me in fiction that has all the setup but doesn't quite follow through on it. It's not that I expect or even necessarily want detailed descriptions of injuries and healing; it's that I want emotional catharsis, and you can even have something that would be satisfying from an h/c standpoint but not have it feel quite right if the emotional beats don't hit in the right way. And on the flip side, you can have stories that give that hurt/comforty feeling in which nothing much injurious actually even happens, or is really dealt with, if there's still some kind of emotional crux or catharsis surrounding whatever does happen.

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