In her screenwriting studies, Amal Awad is discovering more on why we love tapping into the experiences of others through stories.
Joseph Campbell says in The Power of Myth that people aren’t searching for meaning, they’re seeking the rapture of being alive. It’s a sentiment that resonates with me, because for a long time, ‘experience’ in life – a vast spectrum of ideas, events, connections – eluded me. I lived a very comfortable solitude, free from any real challenge and transformation.
Reading Campbell’s observations on people, on recommendation by my screenwriting yoda, has since influenced my writing, and perhaps even my approach to life in general. Indeed, I don’t think we ever find true meaning, because whatever we’re led simply opens up another door and we have to begin a new journey of ‘enlightenment’.
It’s feeling we seek. We want to be in a moment of joy, or for the masochistic amongst us, we relish wallowing in despair. Feeling down can be comfortable, like a worn-out pair of slippers you should’ve replaced ages ago. Things don’t seem likely to get worse, so it’s safe, especially if it’s the kind of sadness that involves eating your feelings in front of the latest season of Breaking Bad.
Feeling good, on the other hand, is wonderful and exciting, but it can also be scary. Bringing you down from feelings of loftiness are thoughts on what happens when the feeling goes away, and we have to face life head-on again. You start to feel crap before you’ve even digested those moments of unadulterated joy.
Time and space no longer feeling infinite, we close ourselves off from further opportunities, and return to ‘go’ like a shamefaced failure. This is what it’s like to be out of balance with yourself, and this is what leads us to plug into similar experiences through entertainment.
We watch films and read books for subconscious confirmation that we’re not the only ones who aren’t so great at life. Nobody gets it ‘right’; some of us are just better at looking at the bigger picture and playing the game with skill and awareness.
This is why we love stories. Whether it’s the written word or a film, perhaps even (dare I suggest it) reality TV, we plumb entertainment for a sense of recognition. We long to connect to experiences that tap into our own. We want to know that we’re not alone in our struggles, even if it’s being played out by a group of actors on a sound stage.
Because we’re all wired the same. There’s only a certain amount of emotions humans trade in, and I’m pretty sure most of us will try the majority of them at some point in our lives. It wouldn’t make sense to think happiness is all we need. What is it without knowing the sadness of loss or yearning?
We can’t imagine success without struggle, because for some of us, great things must be earned. This is the crucial point in any story ending. You can give your heroes a happy ending, but the audience won’t buy it unless they feel the person deserves it.
We see ourselves in characters and their experiences, and the choices they’re compelled to make, because people, in all of their diversity, are inherently the same. We love and wish to be loved. We ache for connection, but aren’t always quite sure how to receive it when it happens. We feel and exist in streams of both love and hate, and run – sometimes literally – into unknown spaces in order to discover some sense of purpose or understanding of ourselves.
And it’s all of these things, for as long as people have told stories that make us absorb movies, or read a novel about a fictional person living another life, or flip open a volume of Shakespeare in all of its poetic complexity centuries later.
It’s a point that was driven home to me in last week’s class on personality types. Specific analysis of human behaviour, the ways in which people find or lose that rapture Campbell is talking about, is a significant point in how you hold an audience.
In considering an enneagram of personality types, it was a fun but slightly confronting reminder of not only how similar we humans are, but also what takes us away from being authentic. And for all the people I recognised in those personality types, I also saw myself. It was fascinating and nice and horrible all at once.
Still, one of the many good outcomes of being a student is that, at times, it’s like connecting numerous dots to create an interesting whole. You are gaining knowledge and insights. In my case, weekly assessments on the ingredients that make up compelling storytelling give me insightful glimpses into humanity and what makes us tick. And, ultimately, it’s a constant reminder of just how much I have to learn.