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Reasonable or Right


Disciplines > Storytelling > Storytelling articles > Reasonable or Right

Reasonable stories | Right stories | Four types of story | See also



Stories can be reasonable, following reason and logic in their structure, but they are not always so. Sometimes they are about justice and what is right. So why? And how do these work together?

Reasonable stories

If stories reflected reality, they would follow the laws of reason, logic and probability, with things happening because effect follows cause and likely things tend to happen. If a story does not make sense, then the audience may criticize it.

Reasonable stories support our need for a sense of control, building confidence that things are predictable and occur for clear reason. 

Yet not all stories are reasonable. There may be huge gaps of logic or they may be based on another logic, for example of fantasy and magic. Unreasonable stories may be chaotic or anarchic, with people doing unpredictable things. Such stories can be scary and provocative, which may fulfil a purpose of storytelling in creating stimulation, which is a human need that drives evolution and change.

Characters in reasonable stories follow rules and are impacted by predictable laws. Reasonable characters do things for clear purpose, even if this is bad. Unreasonable characters are unpredictable and succeed more through luck than skill.

Right stories

There is a strong human need for fairness, yet the world is not always fair, which can easily anger us and drive us to seek justice. Likewise in stories, we want 'right' to be served, with good and bad people getting what they deserve, no matter what laws may dictate.

Stories about rightness and justice can help to make us feel that all is well and that the bad guys always get what they deserve. In this way, stories can make up for the wrongs of the real world and restore our confidence and hope for humanity. Stories about rightness often start in wrongness, with the storyline being how things are made right and how justice is served.

Yet not all stories are about things which are right. Sometimes they reflect the real world and sometimes they play to fantasies of anarchy. While such stories may be difficult, they can still be enjoyed.

Characters in right stories tend to be good or bad, with little ambivalence. Each is motivated differently, with right people driven by social norms and bad people being selfish. In right stories, good people are rewarded and bad people get punished. In wrong stories, right does not prevail, either because right people are hurt or they are unable to bring bad people to justice.

Four types of story

Right and reasonable

There are stories where right is served in a reasonable way. Courtroom dramas are often like this, where the logic is explained by lawyers and right is served by judge and jury.

Right and reasonable stories are comfortable and predictable. We all know what the outcome will be, yet we happily follow along from the start, nodding happily as good things happen as they should.

Wrong and unreasonable

Stories where the logic of events is unclear and where bad things happen to good people do not always find an appreciative audience, even though much of life can seem this way as chaos reigns and the wrong people get the rewards.

Some art movies are like this where the director is trying to shake up the viewers, leaving them dazed and unsure. Some books that win literary prizes can be wrong and unreasonable, perhaps as they espouse postmodern positions that impress judges who are looking for new directions.

Reasonable, but not right

A story can show the inevitable progress of cause and effect as simple actions bring about downfall and chaos, one step at a time. This display of tragic events teaches us about life and typically acts as a warning to us to not let slip our moral character.

In some stories, the tragic hero may have just one fatal flaw that is their downfall. No matter that they are good in many ways, the logic of progressive failure must be shown. Other stories show the turn of fate in the mere chance of things leading to great luck.

Although we may see much of life as wrong and unreasonable, such stories remind us that things happen for a reason and, while our actions are important and can help us succeed, sometimes outer forces we cannot control may have an even greater hand in what actually happens.

Right, but not reasonable

Many stories are about justice being served by people who act as judge and jury, meting out severe punishment to those who 'obviously' deserve it. Many movies are like this, where the hero does what they know is right, capturing or killing the villains without concern for the due process of law. Many would like to punish the people we know are bad, but are prevented from doing so.

Stories that create right may make unreasonable leaps of logic or resort to 'magical' means such as evocation of the deus ex machina. One of the laws of movie heroes is that they can walk unscathed by a hail of bullets while every one of their shots from the hip finds its target. Likewise they can get beaten and injured and still function at nigh on 100%. This is clearly impossible without some kind of divine intervention, yet audiences lap it up.

Another form of 'right but not reasonable' is where good people get what they deserve, winning through to their goal despite overwhelming odds.

It is perhaps not surprising that this category of stories is the biggest. Audiences want things to be right so much, they will more easily give up reason to get it.

See also

Characters in a story, The Art of Being Right


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