Tag Archives: wish fulfillment

Wish Fulfillment in Stories

Image courtesy of www.luckymoney.net.

While working on my new podcast, Kaijuvision Radio, I re-learned that one of the appeals of fiction—particularly genre fiction—is wish fulfillment. Not just for readers/viewers but for creators as well.

You might be thinking this is a bad thing; a sign of someone living in a fantasy world. While I acknowledge that’s true in some cases, I’d also argue that it speaks to a deeper, nobler desire within people’s hearts.

In the podcast, my co-host, Brian Scherschell, and I were talking about the alien invasion plot in 1966’s Invasion of Astro-Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). The heroes, most of them non-military types, band together to repel invaders from Planet X. The audience is able to see themselves in those characters and live vicariously through them for 90 minutes because they understand what it means to protect what is theirs. For those living in countries that have been successfully invaded, it’s satisfying for them to defeat invaders. Americans, on the other hand, have a huge independent streak in them, and they will do what it takes to preserve their freedom.

Wish fulfillment can also come in the form of seeing characters do things one wishes he could do but can’t, which makes it a form of escapism. These could range from things that are impossible (flying like Superman, for example) to things that are possible but unlikely (like captaining a ship). In these cases, the stories could become inspirational. One can’t soar under his own power like Supes, but one could become a pilot. One may not be a ship captain, but he could become one, even if it’s only on his own private yacht.

I realized recently that even romance stories have elements of wish fulfillment. The audience wishes they could have relationships as exciting, sensual, and committed as the ones in those tales because it seems impossible to find true love in real life.

It’s in these cases that wish fulfillment speaks to someone’s inner character and desires. Maybe they can’t “leap tall buildings in a single bound” but they can still be heroic, even if it’s in a small way. They know something isn’t right in the world and want to make it better. They could volunteer at a soup kitchen or go on a missions trip. They can love the way they want to be loved. They can make their wishes a reality, and by doing so, inspire others.

I’ve heard countless stories of people who became engineers, doctors, and writers because of Star Trek. They saw characters like Scotty doing cool things in the Enterprise’s engine room and decided on their career field. Now, while they aren’t exploring the galaxy, they’re creating fantastic new technologies. That’s the inspirational power wish fulfillment can have.

It can also be a mirror into oneself. If one finds himself reveling in Superman’s abundant superpowers because he wants to have power over others, it should give him pause for concern. I’ve known people with power fantasies like that. It always makes them weaker because they don’t aspire to do greater things. I pity them.

What do you think, readers? Is wish fulfillment in fiction good or bad? Why? What are some examples from your favorite stories?

Proxy Characters and Wish Fulfillment

(My apologies for the risque art).
Robert E. Howard.

I once read that Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, considered his most famous creation to be the idealized version of himself. In other words, Conan was who Howard wished he was, which could mean a lot of things, both good and bad. Conan is strong, determined, and powerful, but he’s also a violent, womanizing brute at times.

Regardless, Howard isn’t the first or last author to live vicariously through his stories. Whether unintentionally or not, many authors have created proxy characters for themselves or written about activities they’ve wanted to do or places they wanted to visit.

In the case of proxy characters, some are like Mr. Howard and write a character they see as the ideal they want to be or wish they were. This makes me a bit sad. There’s a tinge of hopelessness in this. Instead of realizing that dream, they settle for a fantasy. Now, it’s a fantasy that makes them money, but it’s a fantasy nonetheless. I have long said that story and art are powerful things that can teach writers and readers alike things about themselves, and while a little escapism is good for the soul, it shouldn’t become a surrogate reality. That’s why many people get addicted to television, video games, and the like. On the other hand, some authors write characters that are (often) thinly veiled copies of themselves. Now, this could be a case of unhealthy wish fulfillment, or it could be a literary device they use to make a point. As Gene Roddenberry showed with the original Star Trek, one can make controversial statements so long as it’s couched in story. I’ve seen authors—including one I know—either put their own words in their characters’ mouths or model the character after themselves. Heck, the best example I can think of is Natasha Hayden’s story in The Day After, which is pretty much her life except she’s not a spy (so far as I know).

If I’m honest with myself, I’ve done the same thing. While I wouldn’t say I modeled him after myself (at least not consciously), I must admit that sometimes I envy Jaysynn, a character I created for the Children of the Wells serial. I sometimes wish I was an athletic parkour martial artist. Well, I wish I at least matched part of that description. I’m sure with the proper effort, time, and money, I can learn martial arts. I’ve wanted to for a long time. But as for parkour…I don’t think I have enough athletic ability to do that well. I could be wrong. Perhaps with the proper training….

See what I mean by wish fulfillment? My priorities dictate that I spend more time writing than I do to be a star athlete, though I may sometimes want to be said athlete. So, as it stands, these quasi-secret aspirations are kept in the “writer’s well” in my crazy brain, from which I draw to craft my stories.

It is fun to pretend.

Speaking of Children of the Wells…time for shameless self-promotion!