Expectation Pt. II

Let’s analyze a few storires using the expectations model. Nothing rigorous here, just what popped off the top o my head.
The Book of Job: A man’s life falls apart. We expect him to curse his maker. We would totally sympathize if he did. (Since it’s his maker’s fault.) But he does not.
Gospel according to Mark: A man dies. We expect him to stay dead. He does not. He returns from the dead.

High Noon – Bad guy returns to town on the day of the former Sheriff’s wedding. We expect the Sherriff to get married and leave town. But he doesn’t. We expect at least some of the townspeople to help him – but they don’t. We expect his wife to stand by him, but she doesn’t. (Do not forsake me oh my Darling…)

Rocky – Even though the conventions of the boxing story demand that the underdog win at the end, the story creates expecations that Rocky is a bum. That he doesn’t stand a chance. Further, we expect the guy who’s a boxer to be brutish and rough. But the plot with Adrian defies that expectation by showing him to be surprisingly tender and gentle.

To Kill a Mockingbird – We expect Boo Radley to be a monster. He winds up saving Scout.
Don Quixhote – We expect the good Don to take the first good beating and go home. We expect Sancho Panza to wise up and desert the old fool.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – We expect Indy to get into a huge brawl with the guy with the sword – but he just shoots him.

I’m not saying unexpectedness is the gauge of a good story – but there appears to be something going on here. You give me a good story and I’ll show you that a big part of it is unexpected.

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3 replies on “Expectation Pt. II”

  1. An interesting point is contextual expectations vs outside expectations. Like your example with Rocky — becuase of the nature of the story, we expect that he’ll come out on top, but we know we’re SUPPOSED to expect that he’ll fail, and to an extent we let ourselves believe that. When he does come out on top in the end, its almost like we forgot that we expected it.

    A well-written/told story then, i guess, can make us Unexpect the Expected.

  2. Absolutely. And then you’ve got what the character expects is going to happen. The viewer or readers expectations. Which are also mixed in with the expectations that a given genre creates.

    I don’t understands how all of this fits together,

    but I expect I will.

  3. That’s a great way to look at storytelling.

    Les Mis – The guilty cheat, but find Grace and do good things. The ritchous never falter, but have no forgiveness, even for themselves. The Hero doesn’t go out with a bang. The Big Battle is a slaughter, and the bad guys win. The Hero does end up with the Heroine living happlily ever after, but in another country under an assumed name (if memory serves).

    The only storytelling practice I get is with my kids, but it’s great for getting the creative juices flowing. At bedtime they always want a story (after reading all the books, of course) but THEY want to pick the characters, setting, and sometimes main conflict. They are always the main characters, of course, but the rest changes at random.

    At first it was hard to come up with anything better than the three little pigs, but with practice I can sometimes build one expectation, then suprise them with another. It’s very much like putting spin on a ball. I always know when I do well because they go right to bed. If they ask “Then what happened” I know there wasn’t enough excitement. If it’s “Tell another one” I know it probably wasn’t long enough.

    If I hear “YOU’RE NOT DONE YET!?!” my wife is tired of waiting for me. 🙂

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