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Author Topic: TWS: Learning from stories - general discussion  (Read 6505 times)

Waldhexe

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TWS: Learning from stories - general discussion
« on: January 22, 2012, 11:07:51 am »
In the project monitoring thread there was a little talk about the subject of learning from experiences (and I think this is consequently also a question about what we learn from stories about experiences). First I kinda thought "so what? People just have experiences, which may be good or bad ones, and they learn from the consequences - consequences are neither a punishment nor a reward, they just happen and we learn by figuring them out."

(Some quotes like this one sparked my thinking: )
Quote
The Old Woman who appears is the Crone incarnate, guide and teacher who practices "tough love." She teaches not by imposing punishments but by making us face the consequences of our action. (TWS, p. 6)


But now I'm wondering if many stories don't stress too much how we learn from negative consequences, how we learn from our own suffering and that of others. Hearing it over and over again how a hero or heroine got tested and transformed by most servere suffering I wonder if this isn't a cliché in itsself which suggests over and over that humans need bad things to happen to them to learn with the underlining belief that humans are naturally bad and need to be punished (by god / the goddess / the universe / karma / whatever)?

I wonder if that line of thinking isn't very questionable because often enough in real life many people who suffered very much find it much harder to make the world better for the next generation than some people who have grown up well nourished and loved and can use those experiences as a basis to expand on. (Although I don't say it can't be vice versa, I'm just saying that there's no guarantee suffering will teach anyone anything better than joy.)

I'm wondering if the suffering part is often more emphasized than the joy in many stories or that there's sometimes a habbit of looking more intensly at the chapters about suffering.

If I look closer to the story of the 12 wild swans there are all those parts of suffering where the heroine was preyed upon by her mother in law and couldn't speak up for herself because of her magical spell...

But there are also parts about joy in the story if I look for them...like the fact that Rose could gain the trust and love of her brothers although they first wanted to kill her.

As much as one could say that Rose learned from all the 'tests' she has been put through in that journey, she might have also learned from the joy of having a loving and wise old nurse and from the joy of finally finding her lost brothers.

Maybe it's a question of balance of what is emphasised while telling or listening to a story.

***

What do you think about those issues?

Do you feel that storytelling often emphasizes suffering too much?

Are there any good stories you can think of where someone learned explicitly a big lesson from something joyous?

If you work with storytelling yourself, how do you go about this? Do you have a specific method of balancing this issue out?

HeartShadow

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Re: TWS: Learning from stories - general discussion
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2012, 07:18:47 pm »
Quote from: Waldhexe;39862


 
I think this is one of the inherent problems with stories.  If it's all good, there's no story - plot revolves around conflict, strife, suffering - and resolving that.

The joy is only there BECAUSE of the price paid to gain it.

Morag

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Re: TWS: Learning from stories - general discussion
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2012, 07:25:37 pm »
Quote from: HeartShadow;39912
I think this is one of the inherent problems with stories.  If it's all good, there's no story - plot revolves around conflict, strife, suffering - and resolving that.

The joy is only there BECAUSE of the price paid to gain it.

 
Exactly. I'm thinking of all the good stories I really enjoy, and I know that the joy finally attained by the characters wouldn't be so poignant if it weren't for the suffering they went through at the beginning.

Needs to be a balance, though. Otherwise you get really depressing stories [too much suffering]. Or really boring ones [too much joy; not enough conflict].
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Starlight

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Re: TWS: Learning from stories - general discussion
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2016, 09:35:35 am »
Quote from: Waldhexe;39862
Do you feel that storytelling often emphasizes suffering too much?

Are there any good stories you can think of where someone learned explicitly a big lesson from something joyous?

If you work with storytelling yourself, how do you go about this? Do you have a specific method of balancing this issue out?

 
These are great questions! I know this is an old thread, but I'd like to join in anyway. I LOVE stories. :lub:

Quote from: Waldhexe;39862
Do you feel that storytelling often emphasizes suffering too much?


I think there are good stories and not-so-good stories. Some stories that go under the lit(erary) fic(tion) category can very much emphasise suffering and I don't like those stories, personally. They don't really have anything useful to say (to me) other than, 'Life sucks.' I don't believe that for a minute.

The good stories, on the other hand, can draw us into the tale, have us identify with the characters, and journey along with them. Their path is our path, and what they learn, we learn. We get to see something we might never experience otherwise. That's what's so magical about stories. It's also why I believe storytellers have a huge responsibility. (Have you read Lisa Cron's "Wired for Story"? It's aimed at writers, but it's a good read for anyone interested in story and the effect stories have on our brains.)

Quote from: Waldhexe;39862
Are there any good stories you can think of where someone learned explicitly a big lesson from something joyous?

No, I can't think of a story where someone learned a big lesson from something joyous. The thing is, people don't really change unless they get uncomfortable. So, discomfort or challenges or obstacles are necessary for people to go "Woah! What's all this about? Why am I stuck?" or "Why did that just happen to me?" Then they go seeking for the answer. Or not. Sometimes people resist to start with. (Refusing the Call is how Joseph Campbell put it.)

Quote from: Waldhexe;39862
If you work with storytelling yourself, how do you go about this? Do you have a specific method of balancing this issue out?


Ah.
(Deep breath)
I'm one of those who thinks the best stories are often the stories that just flow without a lot of pre-plotting and outlining. At least in my case, anyway. (The minute I try to plot my muse packs her bag and huffs out the door telling me I'm no fun and a control-freak. Not really, but I imagine this is what happens because pre-plotting has never worked for me.)
Dean Wesley Smith is of the opinion - and he is a long-term writer with a very successful career - that writing should be fun. That we know how to tell stories because we've soaked up the art of stories since we were children and ever since. I like this idea. I think learning the craft and reading books about techniques and taking classes is invaluable, but when it comes to writing, we should just write and let the story be what it wants to be. That's where the magic is.
So, to answer your question: no, I don't do anything specific to make a story come out balanced. I enjoy discovering the story as I go along.

Great questions. Great discussion. :thup:
What you seek is seeking you. - Rumi

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. - CG Jung

Sefiru

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Re: TWS: Learning from stories - general discussion
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2016, 07:48:51 pm »
Quote from: Waldhexe;39862

What do you think about those issues?
Do you feel that storytelling often emphasizes suffering too much?


I'd partly agree with Sunflower on this one: Conflict is one way to make a story interesting, and it's the easiest to apply. There are genres of story which hinge on other devices; discovery is one of my favorites, I can also think of humor and cuteness (aka WAFF, warm and fluffy feeling) carrying a story.

Quote

Are there any good stories you can think of where someone learned explicitly a big lesson from something joyous?


Actually, yes. All the time.

I think it's important to distinguish what the character learns in the story, from what the reader/listener learns from the story. And a lot of the time, the story involves the protagonist overcoming an ordeal using skills or traits they already have.

I know the common phrase is "adversity builds character" but I prefer the phrasing "adversity reveals character". Some examples from fiction off the top of my head:

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry, Ron and Hermione get through the final obstacle course using knowledge they learned from friends (Fluffy) and mentors (the Mirror), skills from activities they enjoyed (Quidditch, chess, logic puzzles), treasured gifts (the invisibility cloak), and the teamwork based on their friendship, not to mention innate Gryffindor courage. And of course Harry's trump card is the power of his mother's love.

In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching relies on the wisdom she learned from her grandmother, as well as her already-present mental skills (First Sight and Second Thoughts)

In The Secret Garden, pretty much the whole story is about the characters becoming better people because they encounter joyful and wholesome things. (I should re-read it).

Also, this Avengers fanfic (and others by the same author) is based on the theme of character building (well, mental health building really) via positive experiences.

WARNING: RELEVANT TVTROPES LINKS BELOW:

Foreshadowing
Chekhov's Gun
Misery Buids Character

Sefiru

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Re: TWS: Learning from stories - general discussion
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2016, 09:31:21 pm »
Quote from: Sefiru;195049

WARNING: RELEVANT TVTROPES LINKS BELOW:


After a bit of thought, here are some more tropes I think are relevant to this topic:

Break the Haughty (When the character's problem is arrogance, and suffering teaches them humility)
The reveal (in which the audience learns about the strengths that the character possessed already)
Magic feather (in which the character learns about the strengths they had already)
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpoiledSweet (in which the character has virtues while never having suffered at all)

Also, while thinking about Harry Potter, it occured to me that, oddly, Ron Weasley learns important lessons from other people's suffering: the Troll incident in Philosopher's Stone and Harry vs Dragons in Goblet of Fire. Not sure what to make of that.

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