Monday 26 September 2022

Fiction and change


The west coast of British Columbia

In Buddhism, one of the fundamental teachings is that everything changes. That could sound, at first glance, like a self-evident truism that explains how trees lose their leaves in fall and the tide changes a shoreline as it ebbs and flows. But on another level, this idea can be terrifying. When I told my sister about this teaching, she said it scared her. I would say it scares me, too. For the most part, I like the way things are. I don't want them to change.

I was thinking about this in regards to storytelling. Fiction, too, we're told, is about change. But more specifically, it can be about a few responses to change: 

  • resistance to change: something happens that a character/characters struggle against (The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood)
  • desire for change: the character's situation is untenable and they seek to change it (A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews)
  • fear of change: the threat of change causes a character to react (The Road by Cormac McCarthy)
  • tumultuous change: the character is suddenly thrust into a new situation (Deliverance by James Dickey)
  • inability to change: a character is stymied by their rigidity (Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro)
 Some of these changes overlap and intertwine. And obviously, change isn't always negative. In fact, the happy ending is where the change turns out to be for the best. Or at least, the change is accepted in some way by the character. 

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