In my last post, I warned you about my big thoughts that turn into ideas, which sometimes get messy. As I analyze the writing books I’ve been reading, it occurs to me that storytelling revolves around change. Yeah, I know that is probably a very elemental idea that surprises no one. I mean, without change, it remains status quo, stagnation, static. Nothing interesting or worthy of writing about. But what is it about change that intrigues us humans?
It has been my personal experience—and my observation of others—that we ultimately don’t like change. Yet we all desire it on some level. I think we would all like to be improved in some way. Yes, I know the mantras, ‘Love yourself as you are’, ‘It’s all about self-acceptance’, “Live in the here and now’. And yet why do we even have to be reminded of those axioms? Because we inherently desire change. We want better, or at least we want different. Unfortunately, it usually requires that the discomfort of status quo becomes more uncomfortable than the what it takes to change.
Stories revolve around change. Good stories revolve around BIG change. Why is big change so riveting? I think it’s like that strong impulse to gawk at a horrible accident as we pass by. We shudder to imagine being the one with such misfortune. It makes us uncomfortable, but for a moment, we consider how changed out little cosmos would be if it were us. Stories are like that, though not always with such morbid overtones.
|Chinese Symbol for Change|
Think about the big changes in your own life, the positive ones and those that left you bereft. What upheaval did it trigger? Was it a planned change, or one of happenstance? How long did it take to recover, so to speak, or do you still feel the reverberations of that change? Did it change just your circumstances, or did it change you?
This brings me to the point I’ve been thinking on a lot. Do people change? In the books I’ve been reading on the craft of storytelling, the character arc is intrinsic to the story. Some characters change minimally if at all, but they at least incite change in other characters. We want to see characters grow, learn lessons, and to change. We want them to do what we find so difficult. We are fascinated with the process, so fascinated that we don’t want them to change easily. We want a character to overcome big hurdles, either physically or emotionally. But that’s all good and fine in a made up story. We want to believe that people change, but in real life, do we really change? Is this question the reason why we are so taken in by watching characters change, because we are so stuck in our same old stuff?
Don’t get me wrong, I have witnessed some remarkable ‘changes’ in some individuals, that is to say, they have modified their behaviors and outlook if compelled, or even impelled by some internal motivation. But does our core self, that part of us that is formed into 'us' at a very early age, actually change? We may successfully overcome some weakness, but when put to the test—usually by something that hits us out of the blue—don’t we still struggle with that weakness? When it comes to stories or real life, is ‘change’ just a matter of modified behaviors? I think perhaps trauma may change a person—rewire their core, but it seems that such a trauma would have to be severe. On the other hand, could something on the opposite end of the scale—some kind of an amazing positive event—likewise have the capacity to change a person’s core?
Not that the 'truth' regarding the matter of change is intrinsic to how my new story will develop. In stories, it’s all about illusion. I will put my characters through changes. Perhaps some will have their core altered, or some will simply modify behaviors—after all, sometimes, that’s as good as it gets.