“Change is tremendously stressful, so control the amount of newness you must face”
In one of his more popular lectures, which became known by the title “How to live the rest of your life”, Neil Postman warns against facing too much “newness” all at once.
As a general rule, this is not only great for mustering the forcefulness of life, but is also serves as a fine guideline for writers everywhere in plotting a story.
When reading a book, a short story or even a non-fiction text, the narrative works best when it revolves around a single key novelty. Any other information which is new for the reader, and unrelated to the main novelty ,should be kept to a minimum. This creates a greater impact on audiences I believe, both aesthetically and morally, and is the heart of great storytelling – i.e. knowing what information to include and what to leave out.
This made me think that the true meaning of stories as a thing that human beings do. Stories are a construct intended for coping. The lasting of stories as a human act is due to their ability to make people aware of those new things that might come their way in life – that is, the hardship, perils, heartbreaks, danger, surprises – and in devising a way to memorize them for later use.
A good story, in other words, is always a lesson.
The fact the newness is hard for us to deal with, is probably a great clue to the way the human mind works. Despite our ability to symbolize, human beings are best able to face things based on habits and muscle memory. Stories, texts and narratives all help us visualize and memorize more newness than we have ever faced, and the catharsis and joy we obtain from a good plot is partly through the sensation of having “leveled up” and learned how to cope another novelty.