#ThinkpieceThursday – Deep Dread of Uncertainty
At the heart of any character’s inner conflict is change or transformation. The rage and divide in US politics is all about the perception that the country is changing. “It’s not the country I know anymore.”
Demographics are changing. Social mores are changing. Moral taboos are changing, Resistance to these changes is summed in the theme song of the television hit All in the Family.
In a story, someone or something provokes some kind of shift or change in the character or the character’s world. Change is disturbing because what comes next is uncertain. “You are no longer who I expect you to be. You are not predictable.”
Studies have shown that people would rather get a predictable electric shock (pain) now than maybe be (unpredictably) shocked (or not) later. People show greater anxiety when waiting for an unpredictable shock (or pain) than an expected one. The Joker says: “Because it’s all part of the plan.”
Writers are always advised to write what they know. What writers (and all other human beings) know the most about is change.
Living, by definition, is to change. Nothing in life is static. Change and transformation are all around you. Both impact you every day. You live in an unsettling and constantly changing world. That is especially true today, with the backtracking, outright lying, and whiplash-inducing policy and personnel shifts in the White House.
The world is (and always has been) full of political uncertainty, evolving relationships, personal and professional ups and downs, and, conflicting responsibilities, loyalties, commitments, and desires. Your characters should experience their world in exactly the same way.
You know how painful change and transformation can be. You have experienced extreme, dramatic and, sometimes excruciating change. Your life has been full of unexpected reversals, complex dilemmas, and difficult growth experiences- and so should the lives of your characters. (And there’s no reason why all this turmoil, chaos, and pain shouldn’t be hilarious. Great comedians know: “If it doesn’t hurt. It isn’t funny”.
One of the downsides of the awesomeness of human consciousness is the ability to worry about the future. We know the future exists, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in it. In animals, unpredictability and uncertainty can lead to heightened awareness.
What’s unique about humans is the ability to reflect on the fact that these future events are unknown or unpredictable, This uncertainty itself can lead to a lot of distress, anxiety, and pain. And that is scary.