Of Fish and Storytelling

About Big Fish

Alright, now I am going to break one of the core rules about telling a story.
This story was about the importance of meaning, and the idea that even if our purpose turns out to be false, we are likely better off without knowing that important bit of trivia. This was a central theme in the game Nier Automata and given it was the last game I beat, and I have been ruminating about it. Then on vacation, I watched my brother in law fishing in the rain off the shore of the lake house we rented, being patient dutiful, and not catching anything. Later on, he said he just wanted to go after a big one and became convinced such a fish existed in the lake, he started using only large lures…. but actually that all happened after I wrote the story, maybe I just know him well. I didn’t think he would become a broken man over not catching his fish, even though my sister managed to catch five little ones. Indeed he was fine, thinking instead of next year.

So this is the meta-point I want to make in this post, about the nature of storytelling.

What if the end was

He went home, took a long hot shower dressed into warm clothes, took a deep breath, and played with his grandkids. He promised to take them out to catch yellow perch the next day. His son said nothing, offering his dad a cold beer as he opened his own.

Any reason why this couldn’t have happened?

I deliberately, in this case, gave George few characteristics, had I made him a proud and stubborn man, the original ending would make more sense, but still, I would be making characters to serve the moral into the story. In this case, the moral is that as long as we are strong enough to face the truth, we can discard the illusions we live under and pursue a more meaningful existence. Just as true, just as possible.

Probably a better moral really, but when I wrote it, I had the idea in mind about the necessity of meaning even though it is fake. If you asked me if I wanted to live my life under a false meaning though I would ask for the truth, confident that I can find real meaning elsewhere. So maybe the second ending would also be closer to how I feel. If I wanted that, I could add characteristics to George, talk about how open he used to be, how he felt compelled to find the fish but at the same time felt some guilt, how driven he was proving others wrong. Maybe I could even go through his internal dialogue to make everything really clear. I can conceive of many George’s each with their own reaction to finding they had wasted years of their life.

A common reaction I believe would be to protect yourself from the new evidence, tell yourself that the cinder block and minnow lure were just a coincidence, the moral of that story could be about how we delude ourselves to maintain our pride. I could weave so many narratives because there is no George so long as the character is written in an internally consistent manner(cough looking at you star wars prequels), the moral can be many many things.

It is true that sometimes when you write characters simply take over, but it is also true that when you build a world you usually have things in mind, about what you want to say, if not, the way the authors background was will have influenced their worldview and therefore what kinds of worlds they will construct. So you, as the reader, should always be cautious about the truth in fiction. Because stories do have truth, often more so than long dry factual treatises. Fiction can help illustrate what we want, how to live a good life, what to avoid, teach us what we think is beautiful, what we think is immoral. Explain things too ephemeral and ineffable to fit into any nice concrete scientific theory. Fiction is important, but it only gains more power when one understands it better.

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