July 13, 2011

A Matter of Character

I've written a lot - too much? - about context. Loosely interpreted, what I'm talking about is the course of events that makes up an experience, or in narrative terms, the plot. Put simply, it matters. Which is a bit like saying that breathing is important, if you don't want to suffocate. Of course plot matters. In the telling of a story, you could almost say that it is the story. Or, extrapolated back out in to the real world, one could say that our day is a compilation of our experiences.

There's nothing obviously wrong with that line of thinking, and again, it's one I've probably endorsed (intentionally or not) several times here. But there is a line somewhere, you know where when you cross it. Beyond this point, events are emphasized too much. You could say it's over-plotted, but I think under-charactered is a better (albeit less smooth sounding) term.

A story can be compelling with or without epic scope or well woven threads. But I cannot enjoy a story (which is very different from calling something objectively good, or not), no matter how original or well plotted, without interesting characters.

Think of it in terms of a road trip: The scenery might be beautiful, the car comfortable, and the bathrooms remarkably clean. However, if the company isn't stimulating - or worse, is actively annoying - you find the trip disappointing.

The point is this: Context matters, but not as much as people. A friend losing a job feels more tragic than thousands of lives lost to genocide, not because of any objective criteria, but because of personal connection. We are, despite our best efforts, not rational creatures so much as we are social. And in many ways, this informs the context we choose for ourselves, the environments we inhabit, the events we partake in.

Relevant to my topic, it informs their choice of coffee shop. Convenience matters, as does price, and of course quality of product. But people will sacrifice on all of those levels to talk to someone nice, or at the very least, to not be treated like crap. This may seem a circuitous route to take to say, essentially, be nice. And it is. Very. But it's important, I think, not to just make the point itself, but to justify it, and to do so using the impetus for the thought.

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