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Mothman! (and other stories)

17 August 2012

I’ve been rereading The Mothman Prophecies over the last couple of evenings, mainly because I saw the book on the bookshelf in my office and decided “hey, why not?” (It’s my usual motivation for doing most things, really.)

It’s a fun read for a guy like me, who’s into conspiracy theories and extraterrestrial paranoia. I’d imagine, though, it’s not very pleasant for people who don’t share those interests. If you’re not into the subject matter, the lack of narrative structure can be off putting, even annoying. I suspect it’s not one of those works that is trying to make a point by toying with our ideas of how a narrative should flow — no, I suspect it’s just rambling more than anything.

But that got me thinking about us as people — we really like everything presented to us in a narrative format. It’s one of those things that’s in our bones — we’ve been using parables and storytelling to teach lessons since before the written word. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t much cooperate with the narrative structure.

Some stories don’t have a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. We try to put one there — everyone knows that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is the event that started World War I, for example. But it’s more complex than the death of one person. The real start of that conflict… there were many factors, tons of little starting points. The impetus of a major world conflict can’t really be boiled down into a convenient pre-credits montage.

Some stories don’t really have an end, either. The Korean War never officially stopped. But we still assign an end date of 27 July 1953. That story might be over, and it might not — but we’ve assigned an end to make it fit into a story we have about our history.

So what’s the point of my rambling here? Simple. If you’re writing a story that doesn’t fit into the usual narrative structure, don’t worry. Neither does real life. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to change it — write the story you want to write. Someone will read it, and dig it.

Question for the day: what’s your favorite story that doesn’t fit the narrative structure?

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