Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from October, 2009

The Theory of Narrative Gestalt

Story happens.

The human animal is a storytelling machine. We never need to be taught the basics of narrative, because the basis for all story is simple causality. Events that follow one another are likely linked, our brains dictate, and we scour the environment for clues to the nature of that link. If nature does not provide an obvious answer, we confabulate and confuse, projecting our intuitive understanding of human motivations upon the world. It is this inborn need that is the core of narrative.

We understand stories on a primal level; they trick our limbic system and beguile our amygdala. True, on the higher levels of thought we understand this is an illusion, but one we are willing to indulge in for the sake of a thrill; we aren't such slaves to our passions as to allow them unchecked reign. The methods of this manipulation have been codified, expanded upon, and undercut since the Classical period, but the core of story -- causality with meaning-- is maintained. A grea…

The Horror Protagonist

The core of the tragic character is, despite their hubris, rational. In fact, it is this rationality that allows the audience to empathize with their plight. If hardships befall a fool, or if the protagonist willingly walks into their own doom without forethought, the audience may cheer their dissolution, and will very likely be bored. The character's actions and motivations are understandable, and therein lies the pathos. If a character finds themselves in a horrible situation, even by their own hand, the audience must feel that they'd be in the same situation given the same circumstances.

The horror protagonist must be self-propelled towards their doom, and those choices must ring true. This is almost self-evident, but think to all of the cheap and lazy horror stories that depend on the main character's intense stupidity and stubborn refusal to acknowledge anything like danger. Without the protagonist's rationality (and note that I do not mean that each choic…

Inaugural Post: Horror's Tragic Roots

Oedipus Rex tears his eyes from their sockets, self inflicted punishment for his inability to see clearly. In Antigone, the heroine (Oedipus's exiled daughter, for those fans of continuity) is surrounded by the suicides of her friends and family. In Sophocles version, these horrors are piled on with the aloof air of a divine insurgency. When Seneca the Younger remade the plays (because there is nothing new in show business) he ramped the violence and occultism up, turning tales of hubris into tales of revenge. It's grim stuff. The tension builds, the stakes raise, and the hero, despite his best intentions and honorable actions, finds every avenue of action closed to him. By the end of the play the audience is begging for some release and all too wise to the hero's doom. They want only a cessation of the tension, and exhale only as Oedipus laments his blindness, or when the villainous Clytaemenstra stands over the butchered bodies of brave Agamemnon and unheard …