Earth’s Greatest Dramatic Device – Gravity

Go and take a running jump, they say. Sound dramatic advice if you ask me. I realised a while ago just how frequently gravity features in  fiction. Whether its from a satellite, a cathedral spire, a balcony, a tower or, arguably the most classic cliche, a clifftop, the number of characters who have plummeted – all too often to their deaths –  is legion.

abyss

I myself love a bit of freefall. I’m not entirely sure what it is about the nature of the event. Helplessness, weightlessness, hopelessness, there is something shockingly dramatic about the sight of a human being taking a plunge.

For examples of just how many characters have fallen off various objects to their doom one need look no further than that greatest of artistic studios, Disney. From Mufasa to Clayton, Gaston to Emperor Palpatine (what? He’s Disney now!), the number of characters who have fallen in every sense of the word is counted in the dozens.

Why? An obvious answer seems to be that dying by the will of gravity is a lot more acceptable and a lot cleaner (notice you never see the tidy-up operation afterwards…) than dying at someone’s hands. Sure, plenty of these characters were pushed or otherwise coerced over the edge, but it still leaves their killer, often the hero, with clean hands. Literally. The faltering footstep or the refusal to accept the outstretched fingers of reconciliation provides the final evidence of a moral corruption which dooms these characters to their sad but apparently inevitable fates.

And of course let's not forget the greatest fall of all. My heart breaks just putting this here.

And of course lets not forget the greatest fall *crunch* of all. My heart breaks just putting this here.

Such dramatic device is undeniably a tried-and-tested success, but personally I’ve found the most powerful falls to be not accidental or the vengeance of a wrathful story-plotter, but rather those jumps freely taken. I’m still not sure why, but the tiny cut-scene in Ubisoft’s amazing WW2 shooter Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway remains the most dramatic jump I’ve ever seen (it can be found here at 5.14). Despite being so apparently small and mediocre, its power lies in the fact that the character doing the jumping has just spent the last 5 minutes racing through a burning building. Here we’re presented with a simple yet incredibly grave choice. Burn or jump. Because the alternative is so horrific, the jump becomes all the more powerful. Throwing yourself head-first from a window without knowing what lies beyond is all sorts of messed up fearless-desperateness, and who doesn’t like a bit of that in their fiction?

I myself got a little taste of near-freefall when I went bungee jumping last year. I’m anything but an adrenaline junkie – I’ve never even been on a roller coaster! But there’s something incredibly alluring about that lonely step into nothing. Bringing it into fiction involves literally sending your characters over the edge. How people – real or fictitious – react when they’re standing on it looking down tells you a great deal about them.

r2d2

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Earth’s Greatest Dramatic Device – Gravity

  1. As a writer, have you ever given a character the Push? I’ve done it a couple of times, and to memory it has always been voluntary. There’s something fascinating about the inevitability of the fall. Perhaps it’s the association of vertigo, the l’appel du vide, the void calling us, which is epitomised by the fall. And then the sensation of the free fall itself, the symbolism of giving oneself up to whatever hope or despair lay beyond, seeing the hard climb racing by you in reverse, a mass accelerating towards impact…
    It’s poetic. It’s a crunch, it’s an end, it’s gruesome. It gives me chills. I love it.

    Great post, by the way!

    • Beautifully put (no, really, I find the best thing about posting stuff is that other writers then come along and distill it into something more poetic and succinct!). I’ve never actually had a major fall, though the burial traditions in my steampunk setting involve pitching dead biplane pilots over the edge of floating rockforms into the atmosphere below. As you say, the void calling us seems a fitting way to go.
      Also, thanks for the visit, follow, likes, comments, the whole shabang! Just started poking around your blog, it’s always great to meet a fellow writerling 🙂

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