Story Gravity

Newton

An apple falls from a tree.

A mind miraculously freed from its mechanical conditioning rises in the spirit of what appears to be gravity reversed.

And a third force —  arguably the most important and much less welcome — sweeps people along on a journey towards their evolution as conscious beings. Of all the laws we’re subject to, this is the one we’d avoid if we could. Fictional protagonists can’t avoid getting caught in this force field. If they could, there would be no story. What’s a story without a character heading inexorably toward a potentially fatal crisis?

Let’s face it, no one willingly leaves the path of least resistance, not in fact nor in fiction. We do what we need to get by, and no more. Why would we? But being efficient in this way has its downside. It thwarts our growth. Which has its own advantages—a life less painful.

Unfortunately, the Buddha was probably right when he said, “Life is dukkha (translated roughly as “suffering”). The same could be said of a story—it’s all about conflict and the pain that goes with it. Without a character with a dilemma and their desire to solve it—a thrust which serves as the spine of the story—there’s no story.

As readers of books and watchers of films we know subconsciously about this ‘story gravity’, and that protagonists are doomed to be caught in it. We find it delightfully agonizing because although it’s painful, it’s necessary. Our own evolution, like that of the hero, might even depend on it.

This is just a way I’ve developed of looking at a ‘story’, as well as at some of the things we do and the risks we take in our own lives—actions that seem counter-intuitive and at the same time strangely compelling.

Try seeing it as a kind of gravitational force, benevolent and, yes, at least as painful as being hit on the head by that apple.

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