The Drama Of Storytelling: Reading, Always Beats Living It

One of the many things I love to say is that I love to read drama—just not live it. This type of schizophrenic relationship that one, particularly me, has to drama is one that as a storyteller intrigues me. Drama seems to be the thing that captures all the essence of life—the characteristics that show the incredible range of the human story. And yet that range takes a tremendous toll, because to live it—to feel what it is to be at the highs and lows—is the very thing that can make you great, or destroy you utterly.

I find that as a storyteller, story-lover, and eavesdropper of eloquently spoken words, that is precisely the type of tale I am utterly riveted by. Feel good stories have their purpose—but quite frankly they don’t do it for me. What I love most about drama is how it appeals most directly to your immediate—and sometimes—your most base sense. It’s like if someone—a friend, co-worker, or family member—tells you that they have some good gossip, what you expect to hear is the dirt—the drama. What we expect, and most anxiously are hoping to hear, is a juicy tale about something, usually on the naughty side. Irrespective of how the actual participants in this live action drama make out (and generally if we are eagerly engaged in gossip about them, they may not necessarily be the dearest people to our hearts) we are more hooked into the story, then the actual repercussions. In fact, the repercussions make that story all the more appealing.

I’ve often wondered why this is. Why do we enjoy hearing and watching so much about other people’s mess? Is it because it makes our lives seem less messy—maybe? Or maybe, embedded within the drama lies a lesson to be discerned. One of the most common threads that bind nearly all dramatic tales, whether they are fiction or nonfiction, is that they are laced with life lessons. Frequently they may take on the cautionary tale form, but a lot of the time they either reinforce or go against our own moral values. In some instances they may either serve an inspirational or redemptive purpose, because as much as we love to read or learn of a powerful person going down (for violating our moral code of hubris) we love more to hear or read about them coming back. That sort of drama keeps us salivating for more.

Thinking about this, and thinking in terms of how this affects me as a writer, made me realize that the types of stories that people seem to gravitate toward are those where we learn things, without realizing that we are learning something. You can see this with nearly all of children’s stories. Children are most especially delighted when they grasp something about life, seemingly without effort, when the design of the thing is hidden; if this lesson enhances or reinforces their beliefs, then this is even better. For me then, this is the essence of a good dramatic storyline—when we are so busy being entertained by all the plot twists and turns that we don’t even realize that we are being pulled into something that reinforces our understanding of the world around us, and or confirms our sense of right and wrong—and at its best, inspires us to do and be better. That is drama—par excellence.

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