Monday, 24 February 2014

Creating the Story

With a high definition, Dolby-enhanced digital world available in many lounges, people invariably devote more time to their favorite sitcom or movie genre than they do to reading. Television is easier to engage: switch it on and the story plays out before you in full motion, audio and color, imprinting an unambiguous plot in the mind. Little interpretation and inference is required by the brain as the story is fed to you: a precise and detailed image of the protagonists and their environments leaves no room for uncertainty or interpretation.

Most books don't even have illustrations, let alone motion or audio. And words are not as attention-grabbing as a densely pixelated, crisp picture. When you read, people, environments, dialog and the tone of the dialog are all portrayed by humble, monochromatic words. The the main divergence between a book and television though occurs in the way the story gets processed. While TV leaves little room for interpretation, each person that reads a book will have a different vocabulary, word connotations and powers of imagination. Therefore no two individuals who read a book will have an identical recollection of the environment or impression of the characters. The salient points of the plot may be commonly accepted across readers, but due to the lack of visuals and audio much of the story has to be imagined...and we all imagine differently. 

Reading admittedly takes effort. It's an active pursuit because even after picking the book up you must constantly choose to continue reading if the story is to be completed. Each sentence you read is effectively an affirmative choice. With TV you make just two choices: the choice to firstly switch it on and then the second choice to switch it off. In between those choices you do nothing to drive the plot except stay awake and watch the screen. By contrast a story residing in a book must be drawn out.

"I just want to relax and reading taxes my brain," many retort. Personally I may watch something out of interest, but never to relax. For the mind to relax it needs to slow its rate of thinking down, and TV does not permit that. A book allows you to pause and ponder what could be a moment of revelation or turning point.   With its barrage of images and noise coming at you non-stop, TV is mental junk food for the most part. Reading may not be as relaxing as a nap, but you don't read to relax, you read because you're curious. 

In any case, reading can:
- Improve cognitive functioning and favorably alter the way you behave

Utilizing what amounts to little more than a few paragraphs devoted to painting an entire world, and a few lines to describe each character (most of your opinion is formed by what they say and think rather than any description of them), a book takes you through a plot punctuated by drama, adversity, action, ecstacy, melancholy and comic relief. The magic of a book is that it doesn't really create most of the story, your mind does. Words are there to communicate and guide your mind's eye. Just a few aspects of the environment need to be described and your imagination will fill the blanks in. We're wired to create complete, sense-making stories and worlds when presented with incomplete information. With a few words attributed to the hair color, skin tone, height and attire of a character, you will create a believable person with your mind's eye.

The impression left by a well written story is one of the most captivating experiences you can have because that impression was in part created by your imagination and powers of interpretation. When reading, it's you that brings the story to life. 

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