Monday, October 28, 2013

The Winds of Change

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 testusually by something that hits us out of the bluedon’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. 

13 comments:

  1. Big thoughts indeed. I don't really ascribe to the idea that people "change" so to speak, however I do like the idea of "modifying behaviours" and that is probably is as good as it gets for most of us.

    Sure Sally is a witch at work and when she gets comeuppance from her boss, she might be nicer to people, but that doesn't mean to say she changed. She's still the same witch she always was, always will be. However, if something happened to Sally at an earlier age and she finally figured out after all these years what it was, perhaps then (if she's enlightened enough to do something about it and analyze the reasons for her witchiness) she may do something about "changing her inner core".

    Too, I think changing has a lot to do with forgiveness. We hold on to our slights, real or imagined, and that makes up our core foundation. If Sally did this to me, then I must deserve it. However, if we can forgive Sally her slights, and forgive our own stupidity in believing them in the first place, then I think we're on the right path.

    Big thoughts indeed for a Monday morning.

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    1. Here's the thing--If Sally (who has had some therapy and become enlightened enough to figure out why she has been so witchy and is currently modifying her behaviors to get a better result) has a situation sprung on her--a trigger where in the past she would have lashed out--will she likely revert to witchiness? Maybe ...Maybe not.

      Forgiveness is a whole 'nother bushel. So much easier to forgive (ourself and others) intellectually, but I dare say we won't again walk in front of a car that ran us over! Perhaps figuring out why something hurt us so badly is just as important in the forgiveness process. So much to think on ... makes my head feel like exploding ....

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  2. goodness,, rich "food for thought" will have to get back with you on this one,,,reckon?

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    1. Yeah ,,, careful--I think I sprained a few brain cells on this one! ;)

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  3. Behaviors change. Do people? Oh my. I think, regardless of how our behaviors change, we maintain our sense of self.

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    1. Oh my, indeed! And yet we are so fascinated with change--big change in characters. Maybe it's just a matter of better defining terms like "core self" and "sense of self". When we see or experience change, what in fact is changing? I hate to think it's as superficial as just behaviors ... though I guess that's a good place to start. If we don't modify behaviors, we'll never reap the benefits and thus motivations to maintain the 'change'.

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  4. Interesting. Strangely, scientific research shows that trauma actually *does* change us, rewire us, as you say. It does actually brain damage, visible on a brain scan. That's why soldiers returning from war suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's not just that bad things happened and they're struggling with bad memories. They have been physically damaged in their brains. And when trauma happens to younger children, infants or toddlers who are still developing, the brain damage happens closer to the brain stem... meaning they can have physical symptoms of that brain damage like an awkward gait, clumsiness, etc.. Isn't the human brain incredible? Maybe this stuff can play in to the most story somehow... ? If you are looking for information it's called the neurosequential model of therapeutics. The expert you want to look for is Bruce Perry.

    PS: I'm really looking forward to reading this new book. Love love love the premise.

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    1. That really is interesting. I haven’t researched PTSD (yet), but I’m thinking that the traumatic stress a soldier undergoes is over some period of time, that is, the horrors have been repeated to varying degrees, as opposed to one great big horrific event that alters the physiology of the brain. Though I suppose if an isolated event were horrific enough, it too could alter the brain and a person’s wiring.

      In the case of a child though, would it be a little different, given that ‘horror’ escalates with context and an understanding of what’s happening and all the implications. Perhaps that has to do with whether they experience pain in connection with the event. But what if the child is young enough, say around 3 yrs-old, that he doesn’t fully understand something—say the child witnesses a brutal murder of a loved one … could that alter the brain physically or just mess with its chemistry a bit. Perhaps it would at least leave the child susceptible to developing psychological/emotional issues later on, especially if he were in an unhealthy environment.

      As a side point on brain damage—In my research for my new story, I’ve discovered a condition called Blindsight. Part of the primary visual cortex is damaged, yet they are able to respond to visual stimuli … yeah, the brain is incredible! A delusional woman who believes her son is blind could fall back on Blindsight to explain away her child’s remarkable ability to get around (in a story that purposely pushes the absurd envelop!).

      And thanks for the reference to neurosequential stuff. I will definitely check that out.

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    2. Oh, and here's another 'condition' I need to research for the sister character--Narcissism!

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  5. *next* story, not most story! (I may have a touch of brain damage myself. :) )

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    1. I knew what you meant! but thank you for commiserating with a fellow perfectionist who also would have gone back and made the correction! :)

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  6. This is an incredible post, Bridget. I've been thinking a lot about change lately too, especially how it works in the stories I write and how that affects me too. I think even writing a novel can change me, even if it's just small behaviors (because it makes me look at myself differently). I think people can change, overall, but like you said, I think it takes something extremely profound (trauma, so to speak) to actually rewire a person. I love exploring this stuff in stories! Not sure I want trauma in my own life. I'll wish for the smaller stuff. :)

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  7. No, we don't like trauma, but we sure like to put our poor characters through it!

    I wonder about the changes we go through personally, I mean, growth is change, right? Looking back on who, or where, I was before I started writing these novels ... well, yeah, I'm not entirely the same ... it's kind of a strange concept, really. I'm the same person, but I sure feel differently about some things. Maybe it's just that we have exposed ourselves to 'stimuli' that we otherwise would not have encountered, and thus a dormant part of us awakens and now reacts in ways we've never experienced. That feels like change, but is it? Such big questions to explore!

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