I’ve been thinking recently about how I’m addicted to story. I don’t think I’m the only one. In fact, ‘Story’ is how many of us make sense of everything. I’m not just talking about books, films and television. I mean it all. From our work lives to grocery shopping. From friendships and family to strangers we meet. The fascinating to the banal. It all makes up a story. Our brains put everything into a sequence to help us understand it. Beginning, middle, end.
Some of these sequences we come to expect unconsciously, so we don’t spend too much time thinking about them. How, for example, the tins of crushed tomatoes came to be on the shelf in the supermarket. We either don’t know enough and don’t care, or we do know the process it’s undergone to get there and we focus on the next chapter of that story: how it gets from that shelf into the bolognese we’ll be cooking tonight.
I’m fascinated by what came before, what comes next. The ‘what comes next’ intrigue is strong when I’m watching TV & movies, or reading books. Being so interested in stories already (and in the process of crafting my own), I find myself wanting to watch or read right to the end, even if I’ve already decided that I’m not really liking it.
Take a bad movie, for example. One that is kind of cliché, poorly scripted, with questionable acting. But, you give it the benefit of the doubt and start out. By half an hour in, you’ve guessed where it’s going, you’re a bit appalled at the borrowed dialogue, and you’re wondering why you started watching it in the first place. Do you turn it off, or keep going?
For me, it’s probably better that I didn’t start it, because by then I want to see how it finishes, even if I’ve already guessed, even if I’m not enjoying it at all. It’s the story that I want; to see how it ends. Because when it comes to ‘entertainment’ there are people who have created it, so even if it’s as predictable as ever, there’s an element of wanting to know how these writers/directors/actors will present this story.
I guess another reason I find myself watching lots of sub-par movies is my insatiable hunger for story. Yes, I read a lot. And yes, I probably watch too much TV. But movies are a whole story in (usually) less than two hours. I have been keeping a record of every movie I’ve watched for over a decade, and I’ve just done a quick calculation: On average, I watch a bit above one movie every two days. It’s slightly alarming when I’m looking it like that. And a whole bunch of those are probably re-watches, but as happy as I am to re-watch a good movie, I prefer to see something new.
Why? Because it’s a quick hit of that thing I’m addicted to: story.
It’s a bit of a joke in our house, that quite often (and probably really annoyingly) I will predict what characters will say or do, before they do it. My partner keeps asking “how do you know?” and all I can say is that I know stories and I can see where they’re going. This means I get a sense of satisfaction whatever happens. Either I get proven right (who doesn’t like to be right), or I get proven wrong and BAM! There’s a whole different story I didn’t see coming. Delicious!
On a quick aside: this is one of the reasons I am so thoroughly enjoying the television show ‘The Leftovers’. When it comes to that show, there is no way of guessing what is going to happen. I cannot get it in my eyeballs fast enough! I need to know more, but it is relentless in not giving too much away. I once described it to someone as never having that moment where Scooby and the gang pull the mask of Old Mr Jenkins from the amusement park. And on top of rather brilliant writing, I could watch Justin Theroux ceaselessly.
After that interlude, I’ll return to an earlier point. Getting to the end. I am not, it seems, exactly the same across all formats. This year in particular has made me more aware of time than ever. TV shows do not get the same treatment as films. Because, boy can they go on! “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” And books, you ask? After all, books are my main business. I used to read right to the end of everything I picked up. Again, this year, I have allowed myself to give up on things. When I do, I honestly feel like part of me dies inside. Perhaps it is just the part of me that came alive at being introduced to that particular story, that I will now never know how it ends. But I have to be more aware of my time, as I have talked about in previous posts.
What about you? Do you persevere? Or are you ready and willing to move on to something more engaging?