Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Dec 31 2007

Losing our place

Reading this story on one user’s discovery of what she felt was a critical flaw in a new e-book reader -mainly that she felt vaguely troubled by the fact that she didn’t know where she was in the book, how close to the end, etc.- reminded me how bound most of us are to the traditional construction and ensuing emotional needs involved in storytelling. When stories come in standard formats like a 250-page paperback novel, a half-hour TV show or a 90-minute movie, we base our expectations of what’s happening and what’s going to happen on where we are within the story. When I was watching American Gangster last Wednesday, there’s a scene involving a raid on a warehouse. I found myself looking at my watch to ascertain whether it would be successful; if we were at one point in the movie it would work, whereas if it were earlier than I thought, it probably wouldn’t. It turned out I was right. When I was watching Ratatouille, the winning of the restaurant felt like it came too soon, but it turned out that it was not the major obstacle in the plot, which differed from most Hollywood story-telling conventions in interesting ways. If this doesn’t make sense to you, surely you’ve encountered watching a TV show you know for a fact to last only a half-hour, minus commercials, and at some point it becomes plain that the plot cannot be resolved in time. Sure enough, it’s a two-parter. Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion!

It seems that a measure of our enjoyment of a story in any form is the reassurance of knowing where we are in the dramatic arc. This knowledge may remain on the subconscious level for the most part, but it’s definitely a part of the experience, perhaps a part we’ve come to take for granted. But as the e-book phenomenon shows, things are changing. With the advent of such technologies as well as more downloadable, variable-construct media being made available, it may seem like we’re in danger of losing our place in the story.

My guess, however, is that although the next generation will see things differently as a result of different constructs, the power of good storytelling will prove more resilient than the medium that conveys it. My hope is that, with the breakdown of set formats for our stories, as well as the inevitable fierce competition resulting from the ability of just about anyone to produce content, will result in even stronger, more dramatically engaging stories that pull us in and give us a sense of where we are without the need to for surreptitious glances at watches or the folded corners of tattered paperbacks.

posted by Poagao at 4:11 am  


  1. Did this post end too soon? Sorry.

    Comment by Poagao — December 31, 2007 @ 4:12 am

  2. Did you like American Gangster? SG wants to go, but if it’s typical Hollyzzz (好萊無聊) then I’d rather not. I don’t really see all the fuss about Ratatouille. It was ok, but nothing out of the ordinary, and I thought the actors doing the voice-overs weren’t particularly impressive.

    I think the current state of Hollywood film-making has reached an all-time nadir. Those guys are completely incapable of telling a story. It’s a lost art. There hasn’t been a Hollywood movie worthy of the name since the end of the 1970s, the last great era of American film.

    Comment by Prince Roy — December 31, 2007 @ 4:38 am

  3. Meh, it was ok. Ratatouille had a non-standard story arc, more complicated and harder to pull off, so not really standard Hollywood fare, IMHO. That said, you’re right about most Hollywood films being unoriginal, but be careful as you might start getting calls from there when people see your role in our movie!

    Comment by Poagao — December 31, 2007 @ 4:45 am

  4. saw american gangster. didn’t you think the climax was a blatant rip-off of the godfather, when it showed the busts going down while frank lucas was in church?

    Comment by Prince Roy — January 2, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  5. I think they did that on purpose as an “homage”. The movie was often compared with The Godfather by the filmmakers and some clueless reviewers, but I think it wasn’t even in the same league.

    Comment by Poagao — January 2, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

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