The Art of Annoying Stories
I’ve noticed the key to telling good stories is taking a certain pleasure in disappointing and annoying people.
That came out wrong.
It’s kind of right, though. What I’ve got to do to tell stories is to start an idea then interrupt myself before I finish. Which is just annoying.
I have noticed, though, that as annoying as it is in real life, it seems to be a staple of the entertainment industry. All the best films and books and things are loosely-gathered disappointing moments, strung together by the promise that there may be satisfaction at the end.
Insert your own dirty jokes. I will not do it for you.
What it is, though, is stories are a kind of contract. Everyone knows that it’s all just words and none of us have any real reason to comply, but we agree that we’ll participate in the delusion if the people making the stories hold up their end of the bargain. Which, in the case of stories, is to end on some kind of satisfying note.
If my experience indicates anything, we have grown accustomed to the experience of that contract-like relationship being broken. We have come to expect it, to the point that we have grown so jaded about stories that we don’t even notice being disappointed anymore. We just expect it now.
In a real way, disappointment is a big part of storytelling. Disappointment. Annoyance. Irritation. Stories need these things. Stories need early instances of an experience of the fear of disappointment in order to incite interest and curiosity and an urge to keep on reading the story. The art comes in when storytellers overturn those feelings, when the story resolves the disappointment.
Slight tangent, but only slight: I just realized that the first sentence in this little diatribe has a double meaning, which is the idea of taking pleasure in people who are disappointing and annoying, as well as taking pleasure in causing annoyance and disappointment.
I think that both interpretations speak to the same point. That point being a culture of complacence which has become the normal state of every storytelling and entertainment outlet in business. There was a time when stories were about flawed, familiar individuals that you could imagine meeting on the street. Now, so many of the most famous stories are about boilerplate cutouts of idealized and flattened metaphors for single personality traits, and I don’t even mind sounding unoriginal saying that because it speaks to my point to do so.
“Entertainment” has become a repetitive slog from one whirlwind of disappointment to the next, and it’s become so thoroughly predictable that even the disappointments have lost their bitterness and they just feel like the natural state, as if it’s always been this way.
Disappointment used to have more impact, you know? Back before everyone had grown too terrified of alienating people to take any risks.
Entertainment has just grown so…safe. That feels strange to me. It’s almost like we’ve all grown so terrified of disappointment that we’ve agreed to a steady stream of it, as if the inundation will decrease the pain.
I don’t think the entertainment industry, considered as an anonymous entity, understands the idea of the implied contract it has with its audience.
The entertainment industry has replaced the concept of having a conversation with its audience with an unerring devotion to spectacle, which is complete rubbish. It’s like eating cream puffs all day long.
This is an old song. I know it is. I am basically talking about a loss of an appreciation for subtlety. Which means I am getting off track. Because I meant to talk about how, as a storyteller, I take a certain childish glee from being annoying.
It comes to the same thing, though, because the only way that being annoying can be pleasurable to me is because of the contract between a storyteller and the person hearing the story.
Every time I giggle because I do something intentionally disappointing or irritating in my stories, the real source of my glee is the fact that I am annoying. That has a certain satisfying aroma all its own, but it’s not the main source of my pleasure.
Mainly, the reason it makes me giggle to be irritating when I write stories rises from the knowledge that when I am irritating I have entered into a contract with my readers to, at some point, overturn that irritation. To deliver satisfaction, and provide catharsis.
That is the power of disappointment and the implied contract between storytellers and the consumers of stories. That is why I take pleasure in being annoying.
My family never believes me when I explain this to them, for some reason.
In storytelling, a well-planned irritation starts an emotional Rube Goldberg machine. If built right, eventually it will flick on a satisfying little light.
Brought to you by stories.
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Love under setting sun photo by Mayur Gala (@mayurgala) on Unsplash