While thinking over fiction writing, it struck me that fiction is something that we feel a deep connection to. We read a story or a book, and some of the concepts strike us, the associations come together, and we feel the story – we experience a Connection (with a deliberate capital). These Connections exist in fiction no matter its quality – we can be intimate with something awful or we can connect with something sublime.
Think of how you see an idea that just seems right in a story or right to you. Think of how something just viscerally strikes your gut and you get it. Those are the connections fiction creates. Those are what we want as authors.
Then I realized that we connect with fiction in two ways:
Known Connections: A fiction reaches us as it triggers existing associations, familiar things. Familiar and beloved tropes are prime examples.
Created Connections: A fiction makes us see things anew, creating new associations and ideas. This is the experience of seeing something new or experiencing an idea in a different way.
These are simple, perhaps overly simple, classifications, but useful ones. Fiction evokes previous Connections of ideas or builds a new one. These experiences may be negative – one may experience a painful realization – but let’s focus on the positive and analyze it.
Or, perhaps the seemingly positive. Stick with me here. With this useful tool to classify fiction, let’s examine my ideas deeper.
Known Connections occur when a story or movie or whatever contains familiar elements. We like these because they are familiar, and often they run very deep in our minds. We all have some character or archetype or genre trope that just gets our attention.
These come from existing cultural infrastructure. Look at how people will instantly take to a familiar superhero or a genre trope – even if they’re overdone and tired. If you’ve ever wondered why some people prefer the familiar, it’s because it is familiar.
These Known Connections we experience in our fictional media are also powerful as they’re shared. How many people will bond happily over yet another remake of the same thing, or sigh together over a fictional heartthrob? Familiarity also has a social component.
I don’t wish to lionize these Known Connections. They’re often overdone in mainstream media and can be used in exploitative ways. At the same time, I don’t wish to discount them – humans like familiarity and common ground.
However, I will note they can get stale and lead one to unoriginality. Pursuing media with only Known Connections can leave one dissatisfied, empty, lacking a kind of “mental nutrition” – as we all need Created Connections.
Created Connections are what we experience when fiction gives us something new, and concepts knit together in a way we’ve not seen before. It’s that flash of insight, the realization of a new truth in an intimate way, the just plain cool idea we obsess about. We’ve all had that story or movie where we go wow and just feel we’ve experienced life a bit differently.
Fiction that builds connections is something we’d probably call “original,” though I’m not sure there’s a one-to-one-mapping here.
Note that Created Connections of ideas have to build upon familiar, Known Connections. Without having something already in your mind to build on, there’s no way for you to process or relate to new ideas. Created Connections literally rely on old, perhaps even stale, concepts and ideas to help you experience them.
Created Connections are vital for us to really experience fiction – and life. We need new ideas, diverse experiences, and so on for our well-being. To only experience the same thing over and over again limits us, stagnates us, and drags us down.
Why Is This Important?
So with this theory, what did I learn? Well, beyond the fact I’ll probably keep exploring this, I think I got some crucial insights on fiction and what it means for people. Let me share what this theory helped me think through.
First, this model helps me understand why people consume trope-heavy or outright pandering media. It’s known, and a good author can push all the right buttons with the skill of a conductor or surgeon. If it’s what you want and/or someone uses Known Connections right, you’ll get an audience.
Secondly, I understand why people who want something new get deep into some things. Those Created Connections hit hard, burrowing into our minds and building upon existing Known Connections while making something new. I get why people must experience the new.
Third, it’s a reminder to balance your introduction of familiar and new. You need to play on Known Connections to get attention and have Created Connection to get the rush of the new. It’s your balance of these elements that will determine how people connect with the innovation you’re working on.
Clearly, I’ll explore this more. I just had a Created Connection I need to process . . .