‘Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.’
– G’mork (from the film The Neverending Story)
The psychology of fiction fascinates me…
Why do humans so love stories? Why do we revel in made-up narratives that – at least visibly – have zero impact upon our actual existence? Why do we so often dwell on fantasies instead of our waking lives?
The answer, I think, is quite simple: We love stories for the same reason we love Nitrus Oxide. ‘Goofy Gas’ takes the pain out of dental surgery, and Fiction takes the pain out of living. Only humans, out of all Creation, possess the ability to maintain a non-existent world buried within the consciousness; only humans possess the ability to flee inward instead of outward. (Side note: That probably explains why I’ve never met a writer – including myself – who wasn’t somehow cracked in the grape. We actually live in a place that was meant simply to be a temporary refuge. ‘Course, if we didn’t do that then there wouldn’t be any books for everyone else to read…)
Life is messy. It doesn’t often make sense, and its ever-varying, mad-cap scenarios seldom resolve themselves into an ending wrapped tidily with a little bow; stories, on the other hand, do. They have to… ‘cuz if you’re dumb enough to submit a manuscript that makes no sense and has an unresolved ending, you’ll get that lovely email that all writers dread: Thank you for considering SuchandSuch Publishing for your book. However, this is not the story that we are seeking at this time. We wish you the best of luck with your manuscript…
But what if our stories really did mimic real life? Can you imagine a fantasy novel? ‘Otis Graybeard waved his arms, chanting a spell… but nothing happened, and his friends threw stuff at him and called him a dumb-ass. The end.’ How about a science fiction novel? ‘Zulian Supernova climbed into his homemade rocket, bound for Venus. Then it exploded in his backyard, blowing Zulian to smithereens and taking out half the neighborhood. The end.’
What if the most popular literary genre – romance – was starkly realistic? ‘Sally was madly in love with Lorenzo St. Germaine, who was brutally handsome and filthy rich… but Lorenzo wouldn’t give her the time of day, so Sally married the garbage man instead. The end.’
Even soldiers in a war zone get pulled away from the front lines once in a while, so they can re-charge their batteries with ‘Rest and Relaxation’. The human mind cannot tolerate constant, inescapable stress.
The military has R&R…
The rest of us have stories.