Narrative

Narrative.  Humans not only love narratives we need them to create order in a disorganized and illogical world.  We have an innate curiosity to find out what happened and more importantly why it happened.  There must always be a reason and resolution.  Our minds cannot accept that sometimes life is fickle and random.

These narratives are easy to discern when trying to explain an airplane falling out of the sky or a super-storm devastating a large coastal city.  There are scientific and concrete steps that can determine what happened in those situations.

Things get more complicated and great deal murkier when dealing with humans.  If life itself is random and fickle, we humans are illogical and unstable.  No matter what shows like Criminal Minds may have us believe, there are rarely direct lines from A to B when discussing why humans do the things they do.  On that show each week the team gets a case about a serial killer.  They methodically go through the evidence and the mounting number of bodies and figure out the unknown subject’s logic and pattern until they find him and arrest him within the 44 minutes of actual running time the show is allotted.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), actual human beings do not always operate in a patterned and logical manner.  Occasionally, we do something against our own self-interest.  Occasionally, we break our own patterns.  Occasionally, we do and say things that are just plain bat-shit crazy for no particular reason.

This is one reason I find writing so interesting.  It is the challenge of attempting to place a narrative and a structure upon the stories of what I hope are real human beings who occasionally do things that make little sense.

How do you tell a story about illogical humans who don’t listen to their own hearts or heads to make some of their biggest decision and have it all make sense to a reader?  A reader who wants the narrative.  A reader who wants the story to go from A to B to C rather entertainingly and in a brisk manner.  A reader who wants all of it to make some kind of sense so that they can see the logic and sense of their own world and life.

One of the striking things I began to notice when I started writing was in many reviews of books, television, and movies was the complaint about a character doing something surprising and “uncharacteristic” to that character.  They do not want their characters straying outside of boxes even though and maybe even because people do that every day.  People want their fictional characters to behave “more human” then their actual human counterparts.  There is a gulf in the difference between fictional characters and real characters that is larger than the Pacific Ocean, and it is due to how much we know about our fictional characters and how little we know about the people we work with every day.

I have morbid thing I do after a tragedy in which someone kills a lot of people.  I watch to see how many different people say some version of, “He didn’t seem like the type of go who would…”

We need our characters to follow a narrative script because we don’t want to face how little we know of the people we see every day and how little control we have over our immediate world.  Does it shock us, sadden us, or just embarrass us that the deepest and longest conversations we have with this person we see at work for at least 40 hours a week is about our local sports team?  Why does it then shock us that this person is a serial killer with 20 bodies buried in his basement?  We don’t know anything about him except that he prefers man-to-man defense to zone and we have no control over what he may do next much less any control of what anyone else around us may do.

I don’t know what I’m getting at here.  I just find our need for narrative interesting.  Maybe I’m just amazed at the lengths we humans will go to in order to make the world around us seem a little more logical and less random even with the preponderance of evidence suggesting the world is a little more random and less logical.

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