The Fourth in a Series on What Elevates a Story to Greatness
Wanted: Your Input
Some of you — many of you — are asking for examples of vicarious storytelling, and how this differentiates from, well, less than vicarious storytelling.
The mystery genre is a great example of storytelling that doesn’t particularly rely on the vicarious nature of the reading experience for its impact. A killer mystery fascinates and challenges us, but it’s a stretch to say they it thrusts us into the role of the gumshoe or that of the victim or, especially, the perp. We observe these stories, as opposed to really feeling them, and what we see there is the stuff of greatness. Or not.
Thrillers, on the other hand, do depend on a vicarious reading experience.
We may or may not overtly wonder what it would be like to face the impending darkness and danger threatening the characters, but to whatever extent we feel their fear and the weight of forthcoming consequences is the degree to which the thriller works. Or not.
Remember Silence of the Lambs? Chances are you felt the terror of that girl in the basement. That was a vicarious ride.
So… You are invited to share you favorite “vicarious” stories, either novels or movies.
The criteria isn’t how good the story is, or what genre it’s from, just how “vicarious” it is. There is a difference between them, and that’s the point. The more you understand that difference, the more empowered you will be to optimize them both.
For an introduction to this topic, read yesterday’s post (either below, or here). Check out the comments, too, that’ll help clarify.
There are several qualities that can elevate a story to greatness, and the delivery of a vicarious ride is just one of them.
Need an example of a story that wasn’t particularly vicarious, yet was very successful?
How about The Sixth Sense, the 1999 shocker from M. Night Shyamalan starring Bruce Willis. It was interesting, certainly, it made you guess, but it didn’t really make you want to become that character, or one of the bit players. You didn’t wonder what it would be like to be Bruce Willis in this story, you simply looked on, in this case with $600 million worth of viewer curiousity.
You tried to figure it all out. And when the ending came, you gasped out loud. But it wasn’t vicarious, it was more like putting together a puzzle.
The more that a context of observation applies to a story, versus one of what-if-that-was me?, the less vicarious it is.
So think hard and share your favorites.
It can be a tough concept to wrap one’s head around, so the more brains we get on this one, the better.