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Psychological vs Sociological Storytelling

The Big Peat

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I originally posted this article up in the GoT thread, but I think its too interesting about storytelling in general to leave it isolated there in the bowels of a dying beast. So I present to you an article on the difference between Psychological vs Sociological Storytelling, using fan discontent with GoT as its main vehicle but well worth reading beyond that.

edit: If it was not clear, this article does contain spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers.
 
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Robert Zwilling

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Thoughts about the article in general. I expect I got some things wrong about what was said. I use to like reading Scientific American articles, but somewhere along the way it became a psychological defender of industry. It's like a PBS show showing how animals are intelligent and then the person featured in the show say "this looks like it could be a sign of intelligence", but is definitely not definite about that conclusion.

By killing off so many people the show became an employment vehicle, which is a matter of economics, which had nothing to do with the story. That is one of the parts of a TV show that people skip over, how to keep making a long running show people are going to keep watching. Another part of TV is that everything is on a time schedule which is strictly adhered to because the schedule is real. GOT was able to somewhat bypass the fixed time slot by incorporating so many stories and characters over a period of time. There is a formula in there and it ran aground because the free flowing ideas had to end only because the show had to end. A completely unrelated idea to the real history of the world. Are we going to start having wars with a fixed time schedule, starts on Monday and ends on Friday so the weekend is free to pursue other goals? People have tried to do that, but it either worked because it wasn't a true war or it didn't work because it was a true war. GOT was an entertainment vehicle first and foremost and it was driven by ratings, not by an urge to set society on the right tracks, which is never going to work because there are too many tracks to choose from.

"Well-run societies don’t need heroes, and the way to keep terrible impulses in check isn’t to dethrone antiheros and replace them with good people." Does this mean that people who are not heroic (one definition says idealism, courage and morality) can't do things that help people survive in this world? Whose idea of what constitutes idealism, courage, and sense of morality is being used to set the standard. There are plenty of people who believe they are idealistic, courageous, and moralistic and are so far off the path of reality that the only way their world works is by suspending reality. If you go with the author's idea that the hero is always the good guy and the anti hero is always the bad guy, then perhaps dethroning the "bad guys" is called voting. Then the author is coming very close to saying that voting can't change anything. To confuse everything I always thought anti heroes could still be good guys. Well run societies, well, what planet is the author talking about? Well run societies exist in a mechanical sense, or in the insect world, or a totalitarian system, but not in a society that raises freedom of the individual above all else. It only looks well run because no one is looking at the long term consequences of everyone's actions.

While I have heard a lot about how artistic dark scenes can be, there is one problem that exists in television called background scenery. The simpler it is the less it cost. When the scenery is cgi generated the meter is running, turn down the lights and the cost for the meter goers down. I can't believe that the move to dark scenes for concluding a show had nothing to do with the economics of the situation, unless they literally ran out of time. People wanted a big fantastic see it all happening ending and instead got an artistic rendering of what was happening. That could be an example of the sociological versus the physiological story telling concept. The show presented a fantastic show every time it ran until the end when they had to switch from fantastic never ending show with unlimited plots and twists to ending the show in a manner apparently restricted by television time, which just cut it off abruptly because there was no other way to do it. The other choice was to give everyone what they wanted, but the temptation to use the proverbial monkey wrench and make characters act out of character seemed to be an easier way to shut the story down. It's like when the good guy is in a situation where things are not good by any means and is attacked by the bad guy. The good guy picks up the nearest object, usually a frying pan, and whacks the bad guy once, just enough to make the bad guy fall down, but then doesn't go in and finish the job. Instead they throw the frying pan away, out of reach, and turn their back on the back guy, who gets up and attacks the good guy, inflicting damage, maybe collateral damage, and naturally gets away.
 

tinkerdan

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Apparently there are many ways to interpret psychological and sociological fiction. I'm not even certain that they are a thing when separated.
http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/culture/papers/moodie10.pdf
Take this article for instance.

I'm not sure that the author of the OP article understands it all and I'm not sure(in the way they are defined here *and defined rather late into the article) that you can separate the two enough to lay claim to there being a discernible distinction between the two when they seem to be variable parts of a whole.

If anything there might have been a specific balance that was somewhat offset from the first 7 seasons to the last.

Incidentally I should explain that I have not watched GOT and I have only one of the novels; which I honestly have only glanced through since the series started and I'm sure some day I might be tempted to both read the books and watch the series. As a consequence I certainly cannot claim to having any authority as regards GOT or for that matter the writing of GRRM.

As an outsider I can only say that it seems clear to me that the first seven seasons were based on books that were finished and so for both fans of GRRM and newcomers to the work, that fostered certain expectations for each group.

Knowing that this 8th season reaches the point where for whatever reason GRRM has not yet completed the story--There is possibly a new anticipation that there might be a possibility for greater divergence--There is possibly a more indefinable expectation that begs to be met and in the long run is doomed to some sort of failure. It's probably as much a matter of perception than anything else. This reminds me of how I initially responded when Kevin J. Anderson finishing A.E. Van Vogt's sequel to Slan--it's just not quite the same as if it had been all A.E.'s work.

The Adolf Hitler example left me stunned.

Even though it may have been the sociological events that led to a place and time that was perfect for such a man as Adolf Hitler, suggesting ti doesn't matter who filled that position seems a bit shortsighted. That was a combination of sociological factors and psychological (psychology of an individual) coming together for the perfect storm. Without him we may or may not have had something better or something worse happen.

However that all aside it strikes me that separating Sociological fiction from Psychological fiction is like separating out the chaos of events from the hero's journey.

Or perhaps it's more like looking at there being fiction as a chaos of events where no one has agency or fiction with the agency of the hero.

Again there needs to be some balance where the reader sees at least the illusion of agency inside the world of chaotic events and even if hero's die, they have to pass the baton of agency onto the next hero.

Perhaps the illusion is broken.
 

Venusian Broon

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Apparently there are many ways to interpret psychological and sociological fiction. I'm not even certain that they are a thing when separated.
http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/culture/papers/moodie10.pdf
Take this article for instance.

I'm not sure that the author of the OP article understands it all and I'm not sure(in the way they are defined here *and defined rather late into the article) that you can separate the two enough to lay claim to there being a discernible distinction between the two when they seem to be variable parts of a whole.

If anything there might have been a specific balance that was somewhat offset from the first 7 seasons to the last.

Incidentally I should explain that I have not watched GOT and I have only one of the novels; which I honestly have only glanced through since the series started and I'm sure some day I might be tempted to both read the books and watch the series. As a consequence I certainly cannot claim to having any authority as regards GOT or for that matter the writing of GRRM.

As an outsider I can only say that it seems clear to me that the first seven seasons were based on books that were finished and so for both fans of GRRM and newcomers to the work, that fostered certain expectations for each group.

Knowing that this 8th season reaches the point where for whatever reason GRRM has not yet completed the story--There is possibly a new anticipation that there might be a possibility for greater divergence--There is possibly a more indefinable expectation that begs to be met and in the long run is doomed to some sort of failure. It's probably as much a matter of perception than anything else. This reminds me of how I initially responded when Kevin J. Anderson finishing A.E. Van Vogt's sequel to Slan--it's just not quite the same as if it had been all A.E.'s work.

The Adolf Hitler example left me stunned.

Even though it may have been the sociological events that led to a place and time that was perfect for such a man as Adolf Hitler, suggesting ti doesn't matter who filled that position seems a bit shortsighted. That was a combination of sociological factors and psychological (psychology of an individual) coming together for the perfect storm. Without him we may or may not have had something better or something worse happen.

However that all aside it strikes me that separating Sociological fiction from Psychological fiction is like separating out the chaos of events from the hero's journey.

Or perhaps it's more like looking at there being fiction as a chaos of events where no one has agency or fiction with the agency of the hero.

Again there needs to be some balance where the reader sees at least the illusion of agency inside the world of chaotic events and even if hero's die, they have to pass the baton of agency onto the next hero.

Perhaps the illusion is broken.
The TV series reached the end of the current set of books by season 5, not 7, so many of the fans have been used to this. However I think there is a general feeling that when there was material there 'behind it', as in seasons 1-5 the TV show was able to tell the story from the template of the books well, albeit cut down.

With regards to Hitler, I'm not sure I agree with you. There has been a huge amount written about the man before, during and after 1945 and a great deal of this has been psychological in nature. In fact there has been a great deal of pressure from both victors and defeated to paint him as extraordinary and the devil incarnate, because of the extraordinary events of the war. Hence we are, I feel, coloured in our own views of the man and his place in history. But it is difficult to prove if he was a prime 'big man of history' that was essential to the events, or part an inevitable flow. We can't re-run time and change the variables. If Hitler were not there, perhaps we would have got someone worse and even more destructive. Or perhaps not.
 

The Big Peat

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However that all aside it strikes me that separating Sociological fiction from Psychological fiction is like separating out the chaos of events from the hero's journey.

Or perhaps it's more like looking at there being fiction as a chaos of events where no one has agency or fiction with the agency of the hero.

Again there needs to be some balance where the reader sees at least the illusion of agency inside the world of chaotic events and even if hero's die, they have to pass the baton of agency onto the next hero.

Perhaps the illusion is broken.
The way I understood the article, the difference (at least as being expostulated there) is that the pressures on the protagonists in Sociological fiction are coming from groups, organisations, societies and their reactions are shaped in terms of how those societies matter; and in Psychological fiction, its just about how people react to other people. You could remove the people from the context of their societies and their actions would make sense.

If you tried removing the GoT characters from the context of the Seven Kingdoms, a lot of them would look a little mad.

I don't want to get stuck on GoT - if I did, I'd have left the article in there - it's just the idea of a different way to look at stories that intrigued me. There's a lot of talk here and in the SFF community about invented societies, about stories reflecting different time periods, different possible futures... if we put so much thought and heart into them, then shouldn't we be trying to use them to the hilt? Making our settings as impactful as any character? Thinking about things this way a little seems a good way of doing so to me.
 

tinkerdan

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This takes us back to the way most of us do try to write stories.

If you tried removing the GoT characters from the context of the Seven Kingdoms, a lot of them would look a little mad.

I don't want to get stuck on GoT - if I did, I'd have left the article in there - it's just the idea of a different way to look at stories that intrigued me. There's a lot of talk here and in the SFF community about invented societies, about stories reflecting different time periods, different possible futures... if we put so much thought and heart into them, then shouldn't we be trying to use them to the hilt? Making our settings as impactful as any character? Thinking about things this way a little seems a good way of doing so to me.
We try to write characters that are driven by a context yet also with their own specific drive so that this story can't take place anywhere else and with just any other characters. Unique characters within unique circumstances or the story falls apart.

This is a blend of the Sociological and the Psychological and the story doesn't exist without both elements.
We just think of it in terms of context and setting and character arc.

There should be a balance; however, sometimes we concentrate too much on the context and setting and other times too much on the character. The best is usually when the two are intertwined to create the story and neither distilled out so that we can toss one or the other away. Readers can become invested in either; though, as a reader, I tend to get most of my investment in the characters.

So if the ultimate goal is to kill the character then it has to make perfect sense to the story. I don't think I've ever said that I love that novel's world even though everyone died; because that world and all of its fantastic nature and beauty and technology and political climate was the best and most original. Not if I don't have a character to help give the context life.

Even the most thoughtful novel doesn't leave me thinking only about the setting and the gadgets and the special sociological aspect; it's always the characters--how they lived and how they died within that context. If I can't find that character to latch onto, I'm going to toss the book aside: unable to finish.
 

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I'm thinking this ties into whether we view society from an induvidualistic or materialistic point of view, no? Ever since TV, and even hollywood movies, became a thing the dominating view had been that induviduals change history, rather than history changing induviduals. If it is true that GoTs appeal lies in the sociological pov thats really interesting - are we perhaps seeing people losing trust in the current ideology?

This is all speculation of course, but can see 'Game of thrones and the fall of neo liberalism' making an interesting article for Cracked ...
 

The Big Peat

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I'm thinking this ties into whether we view society from an induvidualistic or materialistic point of view, no? Ever since TV, and even hollywood movies, became a thing the dominating view had been that induviduals change history, rather than history changing induviduals. If it is true that GoTs appeal lies in the sociological pov thats really interesting - are we perhaps seeing people losing trust in the current ideology?

This is all speculation of course, but can see 'Game of thrones and the fall of neo liberalism' making an interesting article for Cracked ...
I'd hesitate to say that was why GoT appealed - my ABC of why GoT appealed would be Awesome Visuals, Boobies and Corpse Count, and that what hooked people was the dialogue and plot twists. There's plenty of dramas just as feted as GoT who worked on a very similar basis and which haven't been described as Sociological.

But I think it's what people got used to. And maybe that angle gave the underlying depth that pushed GoT to the front of the modern fantasy queue.

Incidentally, one cheap and obvious benefit of a sorta sociological bent, is it creates these identities in the fictional world that readers can easily cotton to and cheer for. GoT and Harry Potter both benefited from that, and WoT (arguably the next biggest modern fantasy property) kinda had it with Aes Sedai Ajahs.
 

tinkerdan

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When you look at this in depth...
The way I understood the article, the difference (at least as being expostulated there) is that the pressures on the protagonists in Sociological fiction are coming from groups, organisations, societies and their reactions are shaped in terms of how those societies matter; and in Psychological fiction, its just about how people react to other people. You could remove the people from the context of their societies and their actions would make sense.

If you tried removing the GoT characters from the context of the Seven Kingdoms, a lot of them would look a little mad.
...it only makes sense on a limited basis.

What I mean by that is that for the Sociological character, if the environment and people create their responses then for a moment they would be like a fish out of water if you transported them somewhere else--however if they are shaped by external forces then the new place would soon shape them and they would fit just fine.

The Psychologically driven would act the same all the time because it's internal and they would be the true fish out of water in the new place and have a harder time adjusting unless there were similar psych models in the new world.

But this is why I believe you can't separate these out--there is no either or there is only the combination. Separating them truly begins the process of creating flat or single dimension characters; because these aspects are the dimensions.
 

The Big Peat

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When you look at this in depth...

...it only makes sense on a limited basis.

What I mean by that is that for the Sociological character, if the environment and people create their responses then for a moment they would be like a fish out of water if you transported them somewhere else--however if they are shaped by external forces then the new place would soon shape them and they would fit just fine.

The Psychologically driven would act the same all the time because it's internal and they would be the true fish out of water in the new place and have a harder time adjusting unless there were similar psych models in the new world.

But this is why I believe you can't separate these out--there is no either or there is only the combination. Separating them truly begins the process of creating flat or single dimension characters; because these aspects are the dimensions.
Then don't separate them out? I don't think there's anything in what I said or what the article said which says you have to view them as two different things, one or the other, rather than two ends of a sliding scale, with things having both but in different proportions. No need to erect a barrier where there's none.
 

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Game of thrones aside, I agree that there is reason to think about these things - especially when writing about time periods or worlds different from our own. Even when writing charcter focused works, like - what impact does the society have on their ways of thinking and acting and so on
 

sknox

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>what impact does the society have on their ways of thinking and acting and so on
I do this both intentionally and unavoidably, because of my training as a historian. When I created the elves, dwarves, orcs, gnomes of Altearth, I had to create their societies, economics, politics, religion, as well as their magic systems, almost as a matter of course. I couldn't even begin to think about an individual character without understanding at least some of the culture from which they came. I don't need to know everything. I don't need a whole history and sociology, but I need something. At the very least, I need enough to have my gnome be not-a-dwarf and not-an-elf and not-a-human, as well as enough to make each gnome in the story be recognizably gnomic.

I'm well aware other writers can take the stick from the other end, and that's fine. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and all that.
 

-K2-

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What @sknox mentions rings true with me on many levels. Though a source of personal entertainment, exercise, and immersion for me, taking time to consider the culture, language, religion, customs and so on, helps me to generate credible characters. That doesn't mean in the story I have to lay out every intricacy in exacting detail. Yet, I have to be able to understand, if not put my head, where the character's is.

As an example, a barbarian race I developed considered brutality and oppression as a means to being religiously faithful to their gods and the intent of the world. However, they were not using it as some measuring stick as in 'sacrifices to the gods.' They felt it was their responsibility, their racial obligation, in having been so very blessed with their strength and ferocity that they needed to teach every other culture those core concepts to help make the 'other races,' even enemies stronger. In the end, they believed they were teaching and helping. To not do so was sacrilege/unfaithful and naturally, they did so through example. They even had established customs and festivals centered around those beliefs.

Point being, they were trying to do 'good.' Otherwise, like I often see which makes no sense at all, you end up with 'bad guy' races which are rather black and white, and naturally predictable. It's the culture clash, each feeling justified and often well meaning that generates confusion... And... leads the races, and the reader to search for means to resolve their differences.

Naturally, that's sociology driven. At that point, considering socio-driven effects on the psyche, then toss in some external experiences, and a bit of individual personality, you then end up with a rather credible character, no matter how outlandish they may be.

In any case, it works for me.

K2
 

sknox

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To be fair, the black-and-white thing works too. Tolkien's orcs are just plain icky. We don't need to know any more about them, don't need them to be complex or conflicted, don't need to know about their troubled home life. There's no evidence Tolkien needed to know these things, either. They're the Enemy; cool, let's get on with the story. (I realize not everyone is a fan of LotR, but it's hard to argue the story wasn't successful)

So, it can be done. As with everything else in the arts, the one irreducible requirement is that the thing be done well. So much hangs from that one, miserable little adverb.
 

-K2-

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@sknox ; Not trying to debate you, perhaps even reinforcing your second point...

Fair enough, and you're right... Orcs, demons, the bulk of armies be they good or bad, the birds from 'The Birds,' GoT's dragons, wolf-packs, zombies, Native Americans in old movies, Godzilla, etc., etc., all make for fine overwhelming forces that can threaten absolute destruction or make for a lot of chaos on carnage action without any backstory. Then again, they're not really characters, more some force to be overcome.

Using your LotR reference however, when used as more than simply a force or representation of evil, in the Hobbit all of a sudden we encounter Azog.



Not a lot of backstory, but, enough that it makes his motivations and actions have some basis in reason. It turns his random brute force into a personal hunt that implies, besides basic mindless rage, he now has calculated intent that states bluntly, 'this individual will have to be stopped for our heros to make it to the end of their quest.'

So, I agree on the one hand, yet disagree if you want the individual or group to be something more than a powerful threat.

That said, and sticking with your example; in the RPG and ultimately my writing using my barbarian culture, they always had orcs and goblins pretty much as you describe... A basic force for heroes to demonstrate their prowess upon. Bored one day, I sat down and decided to do a bit more with them generating two branches of the orc tree, Vorka-- a higher minded, formal militaristic based race who thrived on stoic honor and duty... and Mourkra, an extremely primitive, brutish, lower minded, superstitious and spiritually minded sub-species.

For each I devised a history, minor differences in physiology, culture, religion and so on... then let them sit idle.

When the day came that I needed my axial character to not only show her skills, yet personality, ability to learn, compassion, weaknesses, etc., I thrust her into an encounter with a Mourkra group. By there being more to that race other than just savage brutes, it gave me a chance to demonstrate MUCH more depth with my primary character than simply being heroic. I would 'show not tell' what she encountered... and by the end of that story (actually my last with all that), it was difficult to say who was more heroic, faithful to their gods, honorable and so on.

The mindless brutes to readers became 'individuals' that my readers could relate to or at least understand and therefor, sympathize with. BUT, most importantly, the Mourkra's depth, gave my protagonist vastly more opportunities to show her depth, flaws, growth and so on.

So, are they a simply a brute force, or something more? In my opinion, dependent upon how much you want your primary characters depth to be shown, they can be either. But, until they are more, they offer little past fodder.

K2
 
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Parson

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Being a dabbler in writing, a long time reader of SF and very little Fantasy, but until recently a full time preacher, I found this article very enlightening. So often it seemed that people would misunderstand the power of faith. They would see it only as an individual help or guide, but would totally fail to see the deep work in a society that shared belief brings for good and for (SIGH!) ill. I found that I had to continually narrow the focus of what I was trying to proclaim for it to be understood. It seems that for a lot of people, their view of the world only revolves around "what does it do for me?" rather than is this good for humanity. --- I think politicians are elected because they want people to view the world through "what does it do for me?" and can show how it will help each group particularly while seldom asking the larger questions. Statesmen are not elected because they view the world through the lens of shared sacrifice and long terms gains, which is seldom a formula for mass movements.

Which shows why sociological writing and stories are not usual.
 

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@Parson, faith is a marvelous word, and one that has--as I'm sure you're aware--undergone several transformations over the centuries and across cultures. As such, it strikes me as an interesting subject for the fantasy writer to explore. Writing about faith in the real world is to create one's own minefield and then dance through it. In a fantasy setting, though, freed from cultural expectations, one could make all kinds of observations, rather like SF can do on politics or the human condition.
 

sknox

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@-K2- , I'm with you on that. I've made my orcs be more like humans than any of the other non-human races, even down to them imitating the Roman Empire for their political organization. I haven't written any stories with orcs in them yet, and don't have any plans, but one never knows.

It's some sort of commentary on modern culture that we have any number of stories with unrelenting evil, but hardly any with unrelenting good. It's like we don't even know what to do with the notion (I'm leaving to one side the whole genre of Christian lit). Seems like a trope ready for inversion: the MC who is thoroughly good, but he's conflicted and has a past....
 
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