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<   No. 1817   2008-01-17   >

Comic #1817

1 {scene: Hospital waiting room}
1 Mercutio: I feel like a doctor is going to appear suddenly and interrupt us with dramatic news.
2 {beat}
3 Mercutio: I said: "I feel like a doctor is going to appear suddenly and interrupt us with dramatic news."
4 Mercutio: Stupid narrative causality.

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Narrative causality is a concept first made explicit (as far as I know) by fantasy author Terry Pratchett. It refers to the idea that fictional archetypes and stories have a certain power, in that they become true, merely by virtue of the fact that they should. A related concept is that things will become true if people believe them to be true.

In Pratchett's Discworld novels, Death is a skeletal guy in a dark cloak with a hood, who carries a scythe - because that's what people believe; it's what Death should be in some sense*. Dragons breathe fire because that's what dragons do. A million to one longshot chance happens nine times out of ten.

Hollywood also loves narrative causality. It's the reason you can predict how 95% of movies and TV shows will go. The guy and the girl have some sort of misunderstanding which threatens their budding relationship, but they sort it out in the end. We all know it always happens that way. The reason is because that's how the story should happen - narrative causality at its most raw and powerful. Television sitcoms do it too. You can tell what the next gag is going to be because that's how things work on TV. If a character says something like. "I feel like a doctor is going to appear suddenly and interrupt us with dramatic news," then a second later a doctor will suddenly appear with dramatic news.

At least, that's how it works in stories.

* Any resemblance to certain completely unrelated characters in a certain webcomic are completely coincidental.

2018-09-03 Rerun commentary: ** Because as all dedicated readers of this comic know, of course, I've never read any of Terry Pratchett's works.***

*** Especially not the signed ones I have sitting on my bookshelf.

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