Hey folks – today I’m going to talk about something a little different.
And as a writer and reader especially you often hear about how important stories are, how integral they are to the human condition, shaping minds, cultures and even history.
But today I’m going to take a different stance.
I’m going to talk about ways that I think stories are bad.
I don’t mean ranting about badly written stories, or errors or plot-holes or whatever, what I mean is ways that I think that fiction as it is, is just straight up BAD.
As a bit of a disclaimer, I’m not calling for change, or disagreeing with general fiction writing practice – all I’m doing is slightly tongue in cheek, throwing out some ideas for consideration and thought.
Ways in which stories are bad:
We’ve all heard the saying ‘we are the main characters of our own story’ and its kind of true. We have the 1st person POV of our own lives, and others take up the roles of major, secondary and minor characters in our story.
In fact there is this weird kind of interplay of fiction where I think the more the presentation of a character replicates our own experience navigating life (in the sense of following one character, not head hopping, using the MC as a lens of perception) the more we are able to relate to and truly sink into a book.
Here’s my problem though. That isn’t how the world works. Yeah sure we are the MCs of our own lives, but there are 6 billion MCs on the planet. Other people don’t disappear off the page when we aren’t with them, and when we’re playing out a scene we aren’t necessarily the Main Character. Fiction continues to sell us the idea that we are the player and others are the NPCs that we talk to when a yellow ! appears above their head and they have a quest or reward for us.
[Ok that’s all a little extreme and truth is reading in particularly has been shown to increase empathy]
Resolution – it all works out in the end.
Now I’m hardly the first person to point out that fiction tends towards happy endings and we all know life doesn’t work out that way. But there is something more complex to say here.
Fiction mimics the moments in our lives when something unexpected (or unexpectedly tense) happens and we’re forced to make a tough decision and live with the consequences. The difference with fiction is that there are multiple elements added to make this sequence more compelling. In real life these scenes are messy, for example often conflict goes unresolved in real life, something happens and people just awkwardly carry on, OR choices are made but a situation doesn’t really resolve exactly. Sometimes whats tense for one person isn’t for another, and so on.
I think my point is to broaden the idea of ‘happy endings’ being a bit cheesy and unrealistic, and just point out that ‘endings’ don’t really happen in life. You still see an Ex from time to time, a relative passes away without magical last words or a forgiving speech.
Fiction largely deals in choices and consequences, which sort-of reflects real life, but in real life its more of a chaotic, unstructured, often more awkward or boring than fiction.
Sort of combing the two issues above, fiction is typically focused on the concept of character, particularly traits, and change (ideally for the better). The typical heroes story is the concept of a naive or flawed hero, casting off the shackles of normality to develop their character through heroics and returning better.
The problem is that this relies strongly on the idea of ‘character traits’ and motivation and the two working together smoothly to guide behaviour and choices. As above, real life is messy and this includes ourselves. I’m getting a bit of a psychological soap-box here, but the truth is people aren’t lazy, driven, meticulous. What we are is continuously behaving individuals in the context of our environments, there may come moments where some single event or tidy series of moments organize to change our character for the better, but the truth is we’re a jumble of values, motivations, that may change and tweak over time.
Fiction tells us that we are ‘characters’ and have ‘traits’ that may or may not need to change through dramatic choices. This is the sort of thinking that can lead people to feel like ‘baddies’ or that they’ll never be heroes or whatever.
[what I’m trying to say is that fiction represents ideas about character but the actual way fictional characters present is w/e]
We get it, the world is a cruel place. There isn’t much justice, and where there is, its often flawed or unkind so not really justice at all. Baddies win, goodies lose, in fact baddies, even history doesn’t decide who is who because history is also a perspective, an opinion and incomplete.
So its no surprise that stories provide a role in escaping the challenges of life by providing a different world, a place where your imagination can safely fly, while still getting the unusual pleasure of the unexpected as you read another’s story.
However at the end of the day it is nonsense, due to the above factors fiction really is just a drug of relief isn’t it?
We also tend to idealize, and idolize anyone fictional, e.g. superhot love interests, buff superheroes etc. I know this isn’t always the case but it does add to the silliness of the escapism at times.
[and sometimes fiction is weird when it tries too hard to be real like it creates an almost hyper-reality where its still not ‘real’ but trying really hard to be, but is the point to trick us into really believing the fiction which is worse than simplified stories]
Anyway just to recap, I don’t really want to hone in on these aspects of fiction, I love fiction. I just had these weird thoughts about how stories aren’t always amazing and it was kind of fun to take an axe to some ideas!
What ways do you think fiction is bad?