Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Stories

In this case, a discussion on what we tell stories about, and why that may be the case. These concepts happen to be a matter of personal importance, examining the reason and purpose behind storytelling. Up until this point there have been many ideas as to why stories are told, what makes a good story, and what evokes the strongest feelings from readers. The responsibilities of the poet and author have adjusted countless times, and this essay will not manage to take into account a one truth or even a majority of truths prior. This essay will tell the truth from one perspective, in my own opinion this is the best sort of truth.

Four concepts, each of them something we are all aware of as readers, are what I decided on. When man writes it is one of these that he sets to develop, to take advantage of. It is because in different degrees, these things are on the mind of nearly all living humans. To simplify it so far is a shame, so I will elaborate further. These four concepts, After-death, Religiousness, The Unknowable Cosmos, The Irrational Human, come together to create every story worth telling. It is when a story lacks these things that we do not have a story, we have journalism, a diary, those bits of writing that are simply a telling of events.

After-death, the afterlife, the forever after, death, the concept that makes us self-aware. It is because we know death is on the horizon, that we can die and that death means the end of this life, this makes us human. For some after-death is only the beginning, there will be another life even if it means reincarnation, life as an apparition, or a field of clouds and white robes. For others, it is a matter of decomposition, of how cold the dark eternity will be, that alien concept of nothingness. Mortality becomes a motivator that resonates to some degree with all human beings. For some, those with a tradition of religious or ritual reassurance, this matter is reduced to a minimum. Yet death still takes you from your family, your friends, your life here will end. If any reader has not stopped to ponder that yet, I beg them to do it now, death is always an end, if not the end. In stories this may present itself as something as simple as mortal danger, any being we care for is one we do not wish to see die. Other possibilities is someone trying to leave something behind before they die, or trying to penetrate death's mysteries. The fact that Death is so often given thoughts of its own, given a body cloaked in black, shows how important a figure it plays in any story.

Religion was mentioned before in the definition for After-death, and it is the oddest on this list. Unlike the other three, Religion is the known concept, it is the one that presents itself as an answer to the others, instead of a mystery to be solved. Religion comes in different shapes, sizes, colors, attitudes, yet each has a purpose of organizing eternity into something we can understand. Death may end this life, but it could begin a new one, or maybe some practice in this life will make eternity warm. The cosmos is not a stranger, it is an engaging force, that knows you, and reflects you. This is what is taught in many religions, and it is believed at different levels by different people. Belief is the most powerful force created from self-awareness. Instinct is pushed to the back of the mind, and what we think we know becomes the defined walls shaped around our reality. This does not require a church or temple, nor a holy book or prayer. Belief and religion are found everywhere that we trust the proclamation of someone else, and let it define our lives. To an extent, this makes religion impossible to escape, and so faith holds an important place in our stories.

The Unknowable Cosmos is linked by its nature to Religion. What the Unknowable Cosmos is, Religion tries to explain. From the ancient quote of Socrates, we know that the wise are those who know they know nothing. We attempt to categorize and structure our reality, whether through science or faith, but there will always be more waiting just beneath that which we cannot understand. Tomorrow may not come, and we have no idea the countless unknowns that could bring about that end. In stories this could take the shape of beings alien to our own way of life, or it could be close to home like untold power waiting within the human body. The essence of it is that we do not know, and the facts that we don't know can surely kill us, or make life a paradise. Like with other concepts, the Unknowable Cosmos can play a balancing act with religion. When you believe that life beyond the stars has already been explained, you are less interested in what could be out there.

The last concept, yet a crucial one for many stories, is the Irrational Human. Every day we spend our days around human beings, on a planet full of them, a planet that could be destroyed or saved by their actions. We speak to other humans, we work with them, we love them, we fear them, yet what we can never do is know them. We empathize and sympathize, we learn from other human beings on a daily basis and we feel their pain and glee. Humans naturally work together in a way that we often underestimate, put down to save our own individuality. Yet when we see someone do something truly individual, break from the mold that we understand, we find that all we can do is make excuses. In truth, the inside of every other human being is separate to them, and as much as we feel that we connect with another, they have lived their own life with influences that may be near identical but are still slightly foreign in that they are someone else's. Why does a 'good' man turn to murder? Why do rational people join hate groups? Why did she say this and why did he do that? When we try to reflect ourselves on another human being, our explanation can only go so far as our understanding gained in our own life. Often our own experiences will not be enough, and this does not require tragedy. If a man steals, we call him a criminal when he may see himself a hero to his family, or simply resisting a system of living that does not support him. As much as we hope that we can predict the world around us, human beings may still make actions that surprise us, disrupt us, and the reasons or lack of reasons why can make for the best stories.

These four concepts, After-death, Religion, The Unknowable Cosmos, and the Irrational Human, all intermingle to create the stories worth hearing. Why does is a ghost back for revenge? What force has empowered this madman? Where will our hero go now that he has fallen? Without these concepts, what would we tell others to excite them? I cannot think of anything, yet I won't say that there is nothing.