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 great story may reveal a hidden truth, and a shoddy story may stretch verisimilitude, but a story only needs causality with meaning.

If it is a natural thing to understand stories, why then does it seem so difficult to create one? This question misunderstands the difficulty. For a great many artists, the challenge is not inventing the fiction, but translating it from it's neural semiotic form into one that other people can experience. That, however, is a matter of craftsmanship, and because of that craftsmanship the story of a professional has a definite quality of ease to it. There is a totality to their narrative, a sense that every action and reaction is happening within the imaginary framework of the story, and that each event is interconnected.

I have rather ostentatiously dubbed this phenomenon Narrative Gestalt, defined as the sense of completeness a piece of fiction generates in the reader. While the stories of the amateur may entertain, they are filled with loose ends, characters that have no importance, and forgotten side plots. This is because life is filled with such. What the professional realizes, regardless of the style they work in, is that narrative fiction is not depicting life as it is--it depicts life as the mind construes it, as an uninterrupted flow of events. The storyteller, like the realist painter, indulges in the illusion of persistence and so draws us into the tale.


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