Sunday, April 13, 2008


Been thinking about stories and writing and stuff a lot recently. Some of that thinking goes a little bit like this...

I'm fascinated by the way that children, even very young children, have an instinctive understanding of stories and storytelling. They understand what they mean, not just on the surface, narrative level, but they manage to take away more than just that from the experience. And they also understand concepts that us adults often mistakenly construe as confusing. I'll show you what I mean:

I was sitting down to watch the season opener of Doctor Who last week, Partners In Crime, and I wanted Buttercup to sit and watch it with me. Terrified of the Daleks and the robotic Host that appeared in Voyage Of The Damned, she was reluctant to be scared senseless in the name of entertainment. I assured her that there would be nothing too scary, and that there was nothing to worry about. (I don't know why I said that - I had no evidence to back up this promise. It may have been a pants-soiling 50 minutes of shadowy corridors and rampaging monsters for all I knew. But Doctor Who has a long and storied history of children watching from behind the sofa or between their fingers, so why not pass on the Joy of Fear to the younger generation, eh?).

So my little 3-year old girl huddled in my lap, tense on the off-chance that some dripping alien monstrosity would appear so that she could bolt from the room. Once the Adipose finally appeared, she relaxed. Blobby CGI moppets are reassuringly benign.

Anyway, I'm digressing. There is a point to all this. Here's the thing. There are aspects to the storytelling that she instinctively understands without needing explanations or following 45 years of continuity. She understands that Tom Baker with his boggling eyes and dragging scarf is exactly the same man as David Tennant in a crumpled suit and flyaway hair. She doesn't know what "regeneration" or "Time Lords" or any of that stuff is. She just understands. And she realises that he is "The Doctor" and that "Doctor Who" is just the name of the show, not the character. She accepts without question the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than on the outside. She understands that it's a spaceship and a time machine and, for all intents and purposes, the Doctor's home. I don't know how she understands all this, she just does.

So the supposedly complex baggage of the show and the character turns out to be the easy bit. It's when assumptions about stories and storytelling creep in that the puzzlement sets in. Buttercup understands the idea of heroes and villains, goodies and baddies. But trying to apply her preconceptions about those roles brought on a flurry of questions. After watching the Doctor and Donna run around corridors for ten minutes, the questions began:

Buttercup: Is the Doctor going to beat the baddies?
AKA: Yes. Good always wins over bad.
Buttercup: Is he going to punch them?
AKA: No.
Buttercup: (on seeing the sonic screwdriver for the first time) Is he going to zap them?
AKA: No.
Buttercup: Is it like a gun?
AKA: No! The Doctor hates guns!
Buttercup: Like Batman?
AKA: Yes! Exactly like Batman! They both hate guns.
(pause to watch more frantic running)
Buttercup: But how is he going to beat them? He just runs away all the time!

This stumped me for a couple of seconds. She was absolutely right. The story didn't mesh with her ideas about how heroes vanquish the villains, because there was no tangible conflict or confrontation. The Doctor at this point was actively avoiding confrontation in the name of self-preservation, and Buttercup understands heroism as sacrifice and struggle and facing villainy head-on. Not running away from it. But I had an answer:

AKA: He is going to beat them with his brain!

I think it took her a while to process that answer, but it was the truth. The Doctor is a scientist. An adventurer. He doesn't see things as binary as goodies and baddies. And the Doctor "winning" doesn't necessarily correlate to someone else "losing". He can Save The Day without physical confrontation. Once Buttercup had wrapped her mind around that, she could settle back and see where the story was going to take her. And she laughed at the little Adipose skidding and grinning and waving on the screen. She didn't see them as "baddies" - they were just different and alien.

So, yeah. Stories. Themes. Narrative. Lot of that in my head at the moment. As you can see from the infrequency of posts 'round these parts recently, I've been otherwise engaged. The vast majority of my writing this year has been offline, and I've been more prolific than I have been for a long time. One of the things I've been doing is keeping a journal, which interests me for a lot of reasons. Mostly because it's all about weaving my own experiences and thoughts into some kind of narrative. There it is again, you see. Stories. Inadvertently putting the random events of my life into some sort of narrative framework to make it easily digestible and understandable, rather than a succession of isolated unrelated fragments (which is probably closer to the reality of most people's lives).

OK. Rambling a bit now. Let's hope the narrative thread of this post is strong enough that my points make sense. After all, I'm just telling you a story in the form of an anecdote - and it's not just about a father and his daughter watching TV together.

1 comment:

FOF said...

I vote for Buttercup to be the next Doctor