Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Temporal Landmarks And Story Structure

I finally finished reading The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior, which I mentioned earlier. Yes, give me a medal. I'm going to write more about temporal landmarks and the Fresh Start Effect for Time Management the future. (Perhaps after a temporal landmark.)

But today, maybe while in the grocery store or driving home, I can't remember, I had this flash of insight about temporal landmarks. I've been having flashes of insights for the last twenty-four hours. I haven't been sleeping well and think the whole insight thing may be happening because of sleep deprivation. This rambling I'm doing in this paragraph may be due to that, also.

Ah, okay, temporal landmarks are calendar events that may be cultural (holidays) or may be personal (birthdays). The Fresh Start Effect paper is a report on a study that found that people are more likely to engage in improving behaviors immediately after a temporal landmark.

And Story Structure?

Here's what I flashed on today regarding story structure. Seriously, it came out of nowhere: Many stories begin with a disturbance to main characters' worlds. And, at least in children's and YA literature, a lot of these changes occur immediately after a temporal landmark.

For example, many stories begin:

  • At the beginning of a new school year (cultural landmark)
  • At the beginning of summer vacation (cultural landmark)
  • When a new teacher arrives (personal landmark)
  • When someone moves to town (personal landmark)
  • When someone moves away (personal landmark)
  • After someone dies (personal landmark)
  • When a parent loses a job (personal landmark)
  • When parents divorce (personal landmark)
  • When parents remarry (personal landmark)
  • When the planet you're living on is attacked (hmm cultural and personal landmark)

Now, researchers think temporal landmarks encourage people to attempt to make an improving change in their lives because the landmark acts as a boundary between their past and the present. It helps them to believe that whatever they were doing wrong is behind them, things will be different now. Let's improve ourselves!

But why do temporal landmarks show up at the beginning of so many books? I'm no researcher, but in my humble opinion, it involves that element of change. Stories are about something happening to somebody. The initial change--that temporal landmark--gets the story started. The main character  responds to or deals with the consequences of that change/landmark. That's what's happening to them.

Temporal landmarks matter to both real and fictional people.

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