Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Theory of Mind

I'm doing some research for my new class this spring, which is about character. (What is a character? What makes a character seem real?) I've come across lots of great stuff on narratology. I always wondered what that was, but I'd say it's the closest thing to the analysis of creative writing processes that exists on the scholarly side of things. But also there's some really interesting work going on in cognitive psychology and literature. I'm thinking of a recent article by Lisa Zunshine that talks about Theory of Mind and the ways in which we understand intention. For instance, someone trembles (she's using an example from Mrs. Dalloway) and we "know" that's because of his excited emotions--not because he has Parkinson's, for instance. But how do we know? Or why does Woolf assume that we know? What recent studies of autism tell us is that not all people automatically make this inner/outer connection. Autistics can't read internal states from external signals, raising the question: why does everyone else? And can we make this assumption when reading or writing literature? Is a character's smile enough to tell us what we need to know?

This could be the end of Show Don't Tell as we know it.

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