When people ask me why I read so much or watch so many movies or TV dramas, I always tell them it’s my form of entertainment. But the truth of it is that they’re also my learning tools.
I’m a student of human nature. I really want to understand why people make the choices they do, what motivates them, what situations combine with what personality traits to create the choices and scenarios that occur.
While watching people is interesting, it’s not as easy to observe a complete scenario since things are happening in real-time. By reading a book or watching a movie, you see the whole scenario unfold in a condensed timeframe. Therefore, I can look at hundreds, even thousands, of “case studies” over several years rather than observing a handful of people over my entire lifetime. And when you observe people, you only see part of the situation. You don’t get the thoughts of everyone involved, you don’t get the private actions (the actions that take place just between a husband and wife, wife/husband and lover, parent and child, etc.). Therefore, you miss half of what motivates the person into doing what they do and saying what they say.
Even reading accounts of events in newspapers or seeing them on the news, you’re still missing most of the information, because news sources only tell you enough to let you know that something happened. You may never learn that the couple had been having trouble for years prior to this one incident. You may never know that the child had run away a dozen times before this incident. The news only really cares about this incident and how much drama they can milk from it.
That’s not to say that everything I read in the biographies or true crime novels is truth, either, but usually there are enough surrounding circumstances, facts, and speculation that I can get a better perspective, a fuller understanding of the motivations behind the people’s actions.
Even with the fiction books, a lot depends on the author’s honesty—their honesty to their characters. If they allow their characters to be and act according to the personality that they (the author) have developed for their character, then the book is good and is a good character study. However, if the author decides that a character needs to go or do something just to make the story interesting or to move the plot along, then the book becomes little more than entertainment.
Most authors know, though, that if they want the reader to keep reading their books, they have to let the characters be true to their established personality. Therefore, as I said, the books become a condensed timeframe study of why, which is really what I want to know.
The framework for a story (book or movie) is the same as it is for everyday life. There are monads (frameworks) for every type of scenario you can think of—serving a corrupt master/boss (honest secretary or aide finds out their boss is on the take), love/unloved, friendship, betrayed/betrayer (et tu Brute), siblings, parent/child, teacher/student, love triangle, honest/dishonest, law abiding/non-law abiding (It Takes a Thief or Catch Me If You Can), etc. All of these monads or scenarios show up in life and in books, you merely have to pick which ones you want to learn about. Once the characters or actors are added, you just go along and see how it all plays out.
In life, it can take a lifetime (50 or 60 years), in a book, an afternoon or two of reading. And since there are a myriad of character traits that people can have, there are a myriad of ways in which a monad (scenario) can play out. That’s why it’s so much easier to study them in stories (books and movies) then to observe them in real life, and that’s why I never get tired of trying to find out what it’s all about.