Improve your stories with Loss

One of the common themes in stories, both short and long, is the cycle of loss. The character starts out with something. It might be knowledge, a home, a location, a thing, a person. The bulk of the story consists of the character dealing with the loss or change, adapting to it, trying to get whatever it was back, etc. The end of the story, if the story is good, shows the character come to some kind of resolution – growng as a result of the loss, learning something, getting something, having an insight. A good story is not a circle but a helix. The character ends up in a different place than where they began.

This is why some TV shows and book series can be unsatisfying! If everything has be put back the same way it began by the end of the episode, the character can never experience true loss or true growth. Have you ever watched or read something and thought “they can’t get rid of that character so I know they will get out of this somehow.” That’s what I’m talking about.

It’s interesting to look at different stories show what parts of the loss cycle. Cinderella, for example, goes from a bad but normal state, gains something, loses it temporarily, and eventually ends the story in the “gain” part of the cycle. It wouldn’t be as interesting a story if there wasn’t that temporary loss part of the story, where the prince is looking for her and she’s having to deal with her sisters.

War and Peace starts in a time and place of relative prosperty, moves through many phases, most of them involving loss of one type or another, but eventually ends up in a happy place again. The characters grew and changed through their losses and gains.

Black Beauty starts with a place of peace and happiness, goes through loss and troubles, and ends up happy again but with the main character being much wiser.

Most sit-coms start from a place of gain, move temporarily into fear of loss, then go right back to the happy ending without learning anything.

What are some stories you can think of that are like this? Do you ever consider this type of thing in your writing?