Well, I was watching an episode of “Stargate SG-1” recently, when I suddenly realised something quite interesting about storytelling which I thought that I’d share with you today, in case it’s useful.
In case you’ve never heard of “Stargate SG-1” before, it’s an American sci-fi show from the late 1990s and the 2000s about a top secret military team who use a wormhole-generating piece of alien technology (called a “Stargate”) to travel to a whole variety of different planets. It’s a really fun show.
Anyway, I was watching an episode from season two (called “The Fifth Race”) which involves one of the main characters (O’Neill) accidentally finding an alien device that downloads copious amounts of extremely advanced knowledge into his brain.
What makes this episode of “Stargate SG-1” so compelling is that, whilst most of the knowledge O’Neill suddenly gains is mathematical/technological, it’s also implied that he learns things like the meaning of life too.
For some reason, this made the episode even more dramatic and fascinating than usual. Of course, the episode doesn’t tell us what the meaning of life is – but it reminds us that nobody truly knows what it is (although there are obviously a lot of theories) and it tantalises us with the idea that there’s actually a definitive answer to this question.
And, well, this made me think about the role of questions and answers in stories. Although fiction is obviously fictional, it can tap into our desire for answers to a whole range of profound and currently unanswerable questions (eg: What is the meaning of life? What happens to our consciousnesses after death? Are we alone in the universe? etc…)
Many years ago, most people looked to religions for answers to some of these profoundly timeless questions (and many people still do). But, of course, every religion has at least slightly different answers to these big questions and even religious people might not always quite believe their religion’s “official” answers to these unanswerable questions.
So, where does fiction come into this?
Well, if there’s one thing that’s slightly better than not knowing the answer to an unanswerable question, it’s knowing a well-constructed fake answer to that question. And fiction can provide these fake answers to people.
For example, we haven’t found any evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life and it’s very much possible that we’re completely alone in the universe. But, science fiction is one of the most popular genres of fiction because it shows us the possibility that there might be aliens out there and gives us an idea of what they might look like.
If we ask ourselves “are we alone in the universe?”, science fiction stories can provide us with a whole variety of interesting possible answers to this question. Yes, they’re all fake answers – but the fact that the story contains an answer, even if it isn’t true, is what makes it so fascinating.
So, how is any of this useful to us?
Well, one way of making your story or comic more interesting is to include some of these big questions in it and to either offer your own ideas about what the answers are or come up with a really interesting fake answer.
If you can tap into your audience’s curiosity about these unanswerable questions (even in a very subtle way), then this is going to be something that will not only give your story more of an emotional impact, but it will also make your readers more interested in your story too.
Sorry that this article was so short, but I hope that this was useful 🙂