Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Need for Narrative

Share |

It is interesting to look at trends in TV programming and consider why some shows are popular and others aren't. Sometimes it seems a bit baffling. Why, for example, is there such an interest lately in home renovating shows. On the surface, they seem pretty pedestrian. Why in the world do people keep watching them and why do networks rush to make them?

An obvious answer is that we all either own homes or would like to own one, and put ourselves in the places of the people fixing up their abodes. We fantasize about doing the same.

But I think there is much more going on than that. I think the popularity of these shows reflects the deep-seated human need and fascination with narrative.

Human beings want their lives to have narrative. That's one reason why we like stories so much. The basics of storytelling involve a beginning and then pogress along an arc toward an achievement. We all wish our lives to be like that. And we love it any time we can see it in anything in life, because it imitates what we are after. We just can't help ourselves. Men standing around watching other men work on a construction site is all about narrative, so is the human interest in games.

I find myself watching home renovation shows from time to time, and as I do I tell myself I am wasting my time. So, I try to stop, but being a human being, I often just can't turn these shows off ... until I follow that fascinating arc, and find out what is going to happen at the end!


I never thought about the attraction of the narrative arc in home renovation shows before, but now that you mention it that makes complete sense. I also think these shows do something else that a novel does for us: they allow us to see the world through the eyes of another character, inserting our perspective into that of the character (and imaging ourselves in that person's house!).

I agree. Storytelling is a wonderful thing, whether it's in a slightly fluffy TV show or in a great novel. Human beings are, I think, uniquely conscious. That consciousness makes us of aware of ourselves, causes us to think about ourselves (sometimes too much!) and makes us fascinated with human stories, the arc of our lives and everyone else's.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page