For me, I mean. A neurotic ramble that I was going to post as a reply to wesleysgirl's comment on byrne's lj -- but LJ is being a beeyotch, so I'll post it here instead. It was tangential anyway, and concidentally prompted by a chat with benaresq as well.
When I write stories, I see them as art (with a couple of specific exceptions where I let myself be too close to the story, and really can't distance myself from it). Not in the "hang it on the wall, ha, I have created Art" sense. I don't see them as *good* art, necessarily. I just mean that I see them as something that I'm *trying* to make good, to use the right words, to provoke a specific reaction. To make something people will think is pretty.
When I read them, I don't think of [most] stories as art. Unless I know going in that I'm not deeply into the characters or don't like them, and it's going to be all about the language, or I'm beta-reading or otherwise purposely acting as editor/critic. When I read stories for me, they're a) entertainment b)escape c) an emotional experience. I'm reading to get into the characters' heads and have an adventure - be it an actual rip-rollicking swinging through the woods on vines adventure, or a falling in love and fighting about who last changed the cat litter adventure. If I *like* the characters, enough to get into it, then I become the POV characters. That's not art, for me; it's living.
And thus when something happens in the story that may be great art -- the death of a main character, the realization that not all love stories work out -- it not only dumps me badly out of the story, but hits me where it hurts, because I've let the characters into my head. I've let them become me -- or at least a part of me -- and I can't look at it on a critical level and say "Wow, what a brave/brilliant/heartwrenching thing to do."
Yet I'm actually willing to write a story where a character dies; even the main character. Have, at least co-written. A) because it wasn't a character whom I identify with from the original media source (i.e. - I can kill Riley in a story because I'm neutral about him. I can't kill Xander because the show has already made him one of the characters whose eyes I can see through) and B) because I'm writing. I'm co-writing a story with zort where a main character eventually dies and another is devastated by it -- I can -- just -- handle this because we're *making* the story.
If I were reading a similar story, with the same characters being affected the same way? I would be horribly disturbed and wouldn't be able to think of it as just effective art. I get angry and sad, that someone would do such things to the characters I love, and to an extent, to me, insofar as I identify with the POV character and am experiencing the events of the story. And frustrated because I know objectively that I have no right to be angry at the author for doing these things, but I am -- at least temporarily. *
And *then* I go looking for things that are artistically wrong with the story, for my own peace of mind, so that I can prove to myself "See, that would never have happened, and this character never did feel right, therefore the bad events in the story weren't real." On that mental Heinlein scale of fictional reality, where every real person is fictional somewhere and vice versa -- or just on a completely subjective emotional feeling of realness.
So -- I'm very bad at talking about stories that affect me deeply, as art -- because I can't look at them as a thing, to be admired. If there's an incredibly well-placed dramatic death that ttally fucks with the reader's mind, and I say "Your story left me devastated and angry and heartbroken" and the author says "Hooray! That's what I was going for!" I find myself very glad that I'm not in range of throwing things at them. [edit see footnote 2] Because I don't *want* to be devastated and angry and heartbroken. I can be entertained by watching it happen to other people, characters I'm not so attached to, or by experiencing it and having the main character learn to deal with it -- but when the story ends with badness, when the point of the story is that badness happens and sometimes we can't do anything about it... I lose all concept of it as art. It's just a horrible experience that I didn't enjoy going through, and don't particularly like the idea that it *pleases* someone that I went through it.
Which is why I avoid character death stories like the plague, for the most part -- this was all about me and how I react to things, not about an author's responsibility to protect me. Yet, like I said -- as a writer -- I'm participating in a story that could affect other people in exactly the same way. Because it's art. Because I can. Because trying to evoke those emotions in other people (though hopefully only people who *like* having those emotions evoked in them, whereas I don't) makes me feel accomplished, if it works.
* And yet, I know there are writers who, when the bad things happen in their stories, aren't doing it to be true to Capital-A Art, but to be true to the story that's being told. People who have the characters living in *their* heads too. And man, that has *got* to suck - -when you don't want the characters to be unhappy, yet that's the way they *are*. I've done that a few times, and pulled them out of it, but there are situations where I'm afraid to write much more, for fear I'll do it again and not be able to fix it.
** 2: I think what I mean here is actually that if I say in my 5 year old voice: "I hate, you, bad mean author, you broke my Xander" in my head, then I see the author in some other forum, like LJ or onlist discussion or such, say "Yay, people were heartbroken!" then I feel like throwing things. I don't actually engage directly with an author or *try* to be critical in any way, at a point when I know I'm not ready to be rational about the story. Which does not mean that I have *never* done this. There's always a test case. It also doesn't mean that evil awkwardness doesn't arise when the 'bad mean author' is a friend, and I *can't* just go away and not talk about the story til I can be not upset, because they're actually sitting there asking me what I thought of it. Then I start looking for the escape pod and hiding under the desk. Someday I will learn to listen to the voice that says "Amy, don't read that story -- no, it doesn't matter who wrote it, don't read it. You will be mad and angry and sad and even small children and sad-faced mimes will laugh at you."