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05 December 2011 @ 10:20 am
"He wouldn't do that."  
Talking with Kate about what a character in a newspaper comic strip is likely to do next, based on our knowledge of his previous actions, I realized: we have circuits in our brains devoted to analyzing and predicting the behavior of other humans in our monkeysphere, and fiction exercises those circuits in a way we find entertaining. This is why characters are important.
fjmfjm on December 5th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
You have just summarised my 5pm tutorial with a student on my Character course.
jackwilliambelljackwilliambell on December 5th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Indeed we do. They are called 'Mirror Neurons'. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neurons Primates tend to have more mirror neurons than other species.

Interestingly, mirror neurons may also explain the phenomenon of ghostly encounters.
jackwilliambelljackwilliambell on December 5th, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC)
(Yeah, replying to myself.)

I just re-read your post and realized you may already know about mirror neurons, but are glossing over than on your way to your point about why we enjoy character-driven fiction. This point ties very strongly in to the problem I am currently having with my novel, where I suddenly realized my characters didn't want to follow down the tracks laid for them in my carefully crafted mystery plot. Ever since I have been struggling to really understand character in story and finding that this is one of the areas where I am on the short bus of life.

Dysfunctional mirror neurons are one of the proposed explanations for autism and autistic spectrum disorders. Note in relation to this that many with 'high-functioning' forms autism (like Asperger's syndrome) do not read fiction for pleasure, but do read non-fiction with enjoyment.

In my own case, though I am strongly ADD and (frankly) rather stupid when it comes to understanding other people's emotional cues, I *very much* enjoy reading fiction and, over time, have come to realize I prefer character-driven fiction. However, I am finding it very difficult to produce said fiction. A quandary I intend to resolve. With a hammer, if I have to.
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on December 5th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Every time I see a Shakespeare tragedy - almost any Shakespeare tragedy - I keep hoping that the protagonists won't make the same stupid mistakes they've made every other time I've seen the play.
et in Arcadia egobooapostle_of_eris on December 6th, 2011 12:27 am (UTC)
. . . also suggesting hypotheses about why many of the self-selected of our circles have similar problems with that predicting.