What you will learn from reading The Science of Storytelling:
– The role stories play in culture and their importance for the development of culture.
– How stories can be seen as a form of tribal propaganda and what this means for humanity.
– The single secret to great storytelling and the one question your story has to answer!
The Science of Storytelling Book Summary
The Science of Storytelling Book Summary is another amazing book by Will Storr. In this book you will learn exactly how stories capture and sustain our attention as well as the role stories play in culture and conflict. If you like this book you will love Will Storrs other books. You can find our summaries here for the Status Game and Selfie.
The Role of Stories in Humanity:
It’s story that makes us human. Recent research suggests language evolved principally to swap ‘social information’ back when we were living in Stone Age tribes. In other words, we’d gossip. We’d tell tales about the moral rights and wrongs of other people, punish the bad behaviour, reward the good, and thereby keep everyone cooperating and the tribe in check.
The psychologist Professor Roy Baumeister writes that ‘life is change that yearns for stability’. Story is a form of play that allows us to feel we’ve lost control without actually placing us in danger.
Why do people believe crazy things:
How do intelligent people end up believing crazy things. The answer Will Storr found was that, if we’re psychologically healthy, our brain makes us feel as if we’re the moral heroes at the centre of the unfolding plots of our lives. Any ‘facts’ it comes across tend to be subordinate to that story. If these ‘facts’ flatter our heroic sense of ourselves, we’re likely to credulously accept them, no matter how smart we think we are. If they don’t, our minds will tend to find some crafty way of rejecting them.
The Science of Storytelling:
It’s really just a question of emphasis. Will Storr believes that compelling, profound and original plots are more likely to emerge from character than from a bullet-pointed list. And the best way to create characters that are rich and true and full of narrative surprise is to find out how characters operate in real life – and that means turning to science.
A birth may be the beginning of a life and, if the brain was a data processor, that’s surely where our tale would start. But raw biographical data have little meaning to the storytelling brain. What it desires – what it insists upon, in exchange for the rare gift of its attention – is something else.
What the brain desires… Change:
Many stories begin with a moment of unexpected change. And that’s how they continue too.
Change is endlessly fascinating to brains. ‘Almost all perception is based on the detection of change’ says the neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott. ‘Our perceptual systems basically don’t work unless there are changes to detect.’ In a stable environment, the brain is relatively calm.
Change is hope. Change is promise. It’s our winding path to a more successful tomorrow. When unexpected change strikes we want to know, what does it mean? Is this change for the good or the bad? Unexpected change makes us curious, and curious is how we should feel in the opening movements of an effective story.
This is what storytellers do. They create moments of unexpected change that seize the attention of their protagonists and, by extension, their readers and viewers.
Alfred Hitchcock, who was a master at alarming brains by threatening that unexpected change was looming, went as far as to say, ‘There’s no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.’
In life, most of the unexpected changes we react to will turn out to be of no importance: the bang was just a lorry door; it wasn’t your name, it was a mother calling for her child. So you slip back into reverie and the world, once more, becomes a smear of motion and noise. But, every now and then, that change matters. It forces us to act. This is when story begins.
Ultimately, then, we could say the mission of the brain is this: control. Brains have to perceive the physical environment and the people that surround it in order to control them. It’s by learning how to control the world that they get what they want. Control is why brains are on constant alert for the unexpected. Unexpected change is a portal through which danger arrives to swipe at our throats.
How to generate curiosity in your story:
Brains, concluded the researchers, seem to become spontaneously curious when presented with an ‘information set’ they realise is incomplete. ‘There is a natural inclination to resolve information gaps,’ wrote Loewenstein, ‘even for questions of no importance.’ There is, concluded Loewenstein, a ‘positive relationship between curiosity and knowledge’. The more context we learn about a mystery, the more anxious we become to solve it.
Curiosity is shaped like a lowercase n. It’s at its weakest when people have no idea about the answer to a question and also when entirely convinced they do. The place of maximum curiosity – the zone in which storytellers play – is when people think they have some idea but aren’t quite sure.
In his paper ‘The Psychology of Curiosity’, Loewenstein breaks down four ways of involuntarily inducing curiosity in humans:
(1) the ‘posing of a question or presentation of a puzzle’;
(2) ‘exposure to a sequence of events with an anticipated but unknown resolution’;
(3) ‘the violation of expectations that triggers a search for an explanation’;
(4) knowledge of ‘possession of information by someone else’.
Build specific models using salient details:
A further powerful tool for the model-creating storyteller is the use of specific detail. If writers want their readers to properly model their story-worlds they should take the trouble to describe them as precisely as possible. Precise and specific description makes for precise and specific models. One study concluded that, to make vivid scenes, three specific qualities of an object should be described, with the researcher’s examples including ‘a dark blue carpet’ and ‘an orange striped pencil.’
As C. S. Lewis implored a young writer in 1956, ‘instead of telling us a thing was “terrifying”, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description.’
Immersive model worlds can also be summoned by the evocation of the senses. Touches, tastes, scents and sounds can be recreated in the brains of readers as the neural networks associated with these sensations become activated when they see the right words.
The director Stephen Spielberg is famous for his use of salient detail to create drama. In Jurassic Park, during a scene that builds to our first sighting of Tyrannosaurus rex, we see two cups of water on a car dashboard, deep rumbles from the ground sending rings over their liquid surface. We cut between the faces of the passengers, each slowly registering change. Then we see the rear-view mirror vibrating with the stomping of the beast.
We experience life as stories:
As we move through life, wrongly predicting what people are thinking and how they’ll react when we try to control them, we haplessly trigger feuds and fights and misunderstandings that fire devastating spirals of unexpected change into our social worlds.
This use of narrative to simplify the complex is also true of memory. Human memory is ‘episodic’ (we tend to experience our messy pasts as a highly simplified sequences of causes and effects) and ‘autobiographical’ (those connected episodes are imbued with personal and moral meaning).
It’s cause and effect that powers curiosity. Human brains and human stories ask, ‘Why did that happen? And what’s going to happen next?’
Open information gaps and don’t over explain:
Every scene in a compelling story is a cause that triggers our childlike curiosity about its potential effects. With each new development an information gap opens up which creates a tantalising yearning for what’s coming next. This is how bestselling page-turners and blockbusting scripts generate their addictive force. They have a relentless adherence to forward motion, one thing leading to another, and exploit our quenchless curiosity for fuel.
But all storytellers, no matter who their intended audience, should beware of over-tightening their narratives. While it’s dangerous to leave readers feeling confused and abandoned, it’s just as risky to over-explain. Causes and effects should be shown rather than told; suggested rather than explained. If they’re not, curiosity will be extinguished and readers and viewers will become bored.
Exploring the human condition by exploring flaws:
Good stories are explorations of the human condition; thrilling voyages into foreign minds. They’re not so much about events that take place on the surface of the drama as they are about the characters that have to battle them. Those characters, when we meet them on page one, are never perfect. What arouses our curiosity about them, and provides them with a dramatic battle to fight, is not their achievements or their winning smile. It’s their flaws.
At the start of a story, we’ll often meet a protagonist who is flawed in some closely defined way. The mistakes they’re making about the world will help us empathise with them. As the story gives us hints and clues about the causes of their errors, we’ll warm to their vulnerability and become emotionally engaged in their struggle. When the dramatic events of the plot coax them to change we’ll root for them.
Correcting our flaws means, first of all, managing the task of actually seeing them. When challenged, we often respond by refusing to accept our flaws exist at all. People accuse us of being ‘in denial’. Of course we are: we literally can’t see them. When we can see them, they all too often appear not as flaws at all, but as virtues.
Identifying and accepting our flaws, and then changing who we are, means breaking down the very structure of our reality before rebuilding it in a new and improved form. This is not easy. It’s painful and disturbing. We’ll often fight with all we have to resist this kind of profound change. This is why we call those who manage it ‘heroes’.
When designing a character, it’s often useful to think of them in terms of their theory of control. How have they learned to control the world? When unexpected change strikes, what’s their automatic go-to tactic for wrestling with the chaos? What’s their default, flawed response?
Storytellers can show the personality of their characters in almost everything they do: it’s in their thoughts, dialogue, social behaviours, memories, desires and sadnesses. It’s in how they behave in traffic jams, what they think of Christmas and their reaction to a bee. What we do in tiny interactions like the way we shop, dress or talk to a stranger on the train or decorate our houses, shows the same kinds of patterns as can be observed from examining a whole life.’
The beginning of individualism (through story):
Aristotle’s ‘beginning, middle and end’, perhaps more usefully described as crisis, struggle, resolution. They often starred singular heroes battling terrible monsters and returning home with treasures. This was individualist propaganda, transmitting the notion that one courageous person really could change everything.
Because individual self-reliance was the key to success, the all-powerful individual became a cultural ideal. The Greeks sought personal glory and perfection and fame. They created that legendary competition of self versus self, the Olympics, practised democracy for fifty years and became so self-focused they felt compelled to warn of the dangers of runaway self-love in the story of Narcissus.
Whereas Westerners enjoy having accounts of individual struggle and victory beamed into their neural realms, Easterners take pleasure from the narrative pursuit of harmony.
How defending our models leads to conflict:
Then the brain enters a state that’s valuable to understand for anyone interested in human conflict and drama. From being model-builders we become model defenders. Now that the flawed self with its flawed model of the world has been constructed, the brain starts to protect it.
As soon as we find any half-decent evidence to back up our ‘hunch’ we think, ‘Yep, that makes sense.’ And then we stop thinking. This is sometimes known as the ‘makes sense stopping rule’. Not only do our neural-reward systems spike pleasurably when we deceive ourselves like this, we kid ourselves that this one-sided hunt for confirmatory information was noble and thorough. This process is extremely cunning.
We organise much of our lives around reassuring ourselves about the accuracy of the hallucinated model world inside our skulls. We take pleasure in art, media and story that coheres with our models, and we feel
Because our hallucination of reality seems self-evident, the only conclusion we can come to is that our antagonist, by claiming to see it differently, is insane, lying or evil. And that’s exactly what they think of us.
A character’s conviction in their rightness and superiority is precisely what gives them their terrible power. Great drama often forms itself around a clash of competing hero-maker narratives, one belonging to the protagonist, the other to their foe. Their respective moral perceptions of reality feel utterly genuine to their owners and yet are catastrophically opposed. These are neural worlds that become locked in a fight to the death.
Igniting the story:
Good stories have a kind of ignition point. It’s that wonderful moment in which we find ourselves sitting up in the narrative, suddenly attentive, our emotions switched on, curiosity and tension sparked. An ignition point is the first event in a cause-and-effect sequence that will ultimately force the protagonist to question their deepest beliefs.
Typically, as their theory of control is increasingly tested and found wanting, the character will lose control over the events of the story. The drama they trigger compels the protagonist to make a decision: are they going to fix their flaw or not? Who are they going to be?
Meaning is created by just the right change-event happening to just the right person at just the right moment. No matter how bedazzling the events of a plot might be, all story is ultimately about character.
The causes of Evil:
Researchers have found that violence and cruelty has four general causes: greed and ambition; sadism; high self-esteem and moral idealism. Popular belief and clichéd stories tend to have it that greed and sadism are dominant. In fact, they’re vanishingly small. It’s actually high self-esteem and moral idealism – convictions of personal and moral superiority – that drive most acts of evil.
Character development (human behaviour) is interesting:
It’s relatively rare, though, for people to shift significantly on the beliefs around which they form their identity, such as Ishiguro’s butler Stevens’s convictions about the value of emotional restraint. It’s these brave souls we mythologise in story.
It takes overwhelming evidence to convince us that ‘reality’ is wrong. When we finally realise something’s up, breaking these beliefs apart means breaking ourselves apart. And that’s precisely what happens in many of our most successful stories.
Stories tap into our innate need to pay attention to and understand human behaviour. For example, a police-procedural drama can feel like a straightforward information-gap heavy mystery about a corpse, but its story usually revolves around questions concerning the motives of various suspects: the always fascinating whys of human behaviour.
The single secret to Storytelling – Who is this person?
If there’s a single secret to storytelling then Will Storr believe it’s this. Who is this person? Or, from the perspective of the character, Who am I? It’s the definition of drama. It is its electricity, its heartbeat, its fire.
This is the question all stories ask. It emerges first at the ignition point. When the initial change strikes, the protagonist overreacts or behaves in an otherwise unexpected way. We sit up, suddenly attentive. Who is this person who behaves like this? The question then re-emerges every time the protagonist is challenged by the plot and compelled to make a choice.
The stories we tell work on different levels. They operate ‘in two realms’, writes the psychologist Professor Jerome Bruner, ‘one a landscape of action in the world’, the other a landscape of the mind in which the ‘protagonists’ thoughts and feelings and secrets play themselves out’. On the plot’s conscious top layer we experience the visible causes and effects of the drama. Then there’s the story’s subconscious that heaves beneath the visible. It’s a place of symbolism and division, in which characters are multiple and contradictory and surprising, even to themselves.
This is how plots develop as they should – from character. At the ignition point, when the drama starts flying at them, their subconscious model of the world receives its first crack. They’ll try to reimpose control. These attempts will fail. They might even make the situation worse. With their neural model of the world increasingly foundering, they enter a subconscious state of panic and disorder.
As their models fracture and break down, previously repressed wills, thoughts and versions of self rise up and become dominant. This can be seen as the brain’s experiments in novel ways of controlling its environment.
Stories such as this are like life itself, a constant conversation between conscious and subconscious, text and subtext, with causes and effects ricocheting between both levels. As incredible and heightened as they often are, they also tell us a truth about the human condition. We believe we’re in control of ourselves but we’re continually being altered by the world and people around us.
Stories tap into our primal emotions:
When a character behaves selflessly, and puts the needs of the group before their own, we experience a deep primal craving to see them recognised by the group as a hero and hailed. When a character behaves selfishly, putting their own needs before that of the group, we feel a monstrous urge to see their punishment. Because we can’t jump into a cinema screen and throttle the villain ourselves, our primal urge to act compels us to keep turning the page or watching the screen until our tribal appetites have been satisfied.
An analysis of ethnographic accounts of ethics in sixty worldwide groups found they shared these rules: return favours, be courageous, help your group, respect authority, love your family, never steal and be fair, all a variation on ‘don’t put your own selfish interests before that of the tribe’.
Theorists have also detected these patterns in myth and fiction. The mythologist Joseph Campbell describes the hero’s ultimate test as selflessly ‘giving yourself to some higher end … When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.’ Meanwhile, the story theorist Christopher Booker writes that ‘the “dark power” in stories represents the power of the ego … [and] is immensely powerful and concerned solely with pursuing its own interests at the expense of everyone else in the world.’
Just as our storytelling brains are wired to valorise pro-social behaviour, we’re designed to love watching the anti-social suffer the pain of tribal comeuppance. Brain scans reveal that the mere anticipation of a selfish person being punished is experienced as pleasurable.
So stories often satisfy our moral outrage, and moral outrage is the ancient lifeblood of human storytelling.
In many of our most successful stories, moral outrage is triggered in the early scenes. Watching a selfless character being treated selfishly is a drug of enchantment for the tribal brain. We almost can’t help but care.
Stories as Gossip:
The surprising discovery that’s been waiting for us, at the destination of our long journey into our evolutionary past, is that all story is gossip.
Humans are driven to connect and dominate. These drives, of course, are frequently incompatible. Wanting to get along and get ahead of them sounds like a recipe for dishonesty, hypocrisy, betrayal and Machiavellian manoeuvring. It’s the conflict at the heart of the human condition and the stories we tell about it.
The role of status in Story:
Everyone’s status is always in flux, it’s a near-constant obsession. This status flux is the very flesh of human drama: it creates running narratives of loyalty and betrayal; ambition and despair; loves won and lost; schemes and intrigues; intimidation, assassination and war. Chimpanzee politics, like human politics, runs on plots and alliances.
When people in brain scanners read of another’s wealth, popularity, good looks and qualifications, regions involved in the perception of pain became activated.
Psychologists define humiliation as the removal of any ability to claim status. Severe humiliation has been described as ‘an annihilation of the self’. It’s thought to be a uniquely toxic state and is implicated in some of worst behaviours the human animal engages in, from serial murder to honour killings to genocide.
Rooting for the underdog:
Just as for our cousins the chimpanzees, our empathy with these underdogs comes naturally. A common feature of our hero-making cognition seems to be that we all tend to feel like this – relatively low in status and yet actually, perhaps secretly, possessing the skills and character of someone deserving of a great deal more.
Storr suspects this is why we so easily identify with underdog heroes at the start of the story – and then cheer when they finally seize their just reward. Because they’re us.
Stories as tribal propaganda:
Stories are tribal propaganda. They control their group, manipulating its members into behaving in ways that benefit it.
A human tribe can be viewed as a status game that all its members are playing, its rules being recorded in its stories. Every human group that has a shared purpose is held together by such stories. A nation has a story it tells about itself, in which its values are encoded, as does a corporation and a religion and a mafia organisation and a political ideology and a cult.
Thinking with tribal stories means shutting out such morally unsatisfying complexity. Our storytelling brains transform reality’s chaos into a simple narrative of cause and effect that reassures us that our biased models, and the instincts and emotions they generate, are virtuous and right.
Such stories would describe the nature of heroic behaviour. Certain characters would be celebrated, and gain status, for acting in ways the tribe approved of. Villainous or cowardly behaviour would trigger moral outrage – an urgent desire to see transgressors punished that would be satisfied in uproariously happy endings. In this way, stories transmitted the values of the tribe.
How tribal stories bring out the worst in us:
We still have this primitive cognition. We think in tribal stories. It’s our original sin. Whenever we sense the status of our tribe is threatened by another, these foul networks fire up.
The storytelling brain enters a state of war. It assigns the opposing group purely selfish motives. It hears their most powerful arguments in a particular mode of spiteful lawyerliness, seeking to misrepresent or discard what they have to say. It uses the most appalling transgressions of their very worst members as a brush to smear them all. It takes its individuals and erases their depth and diversity.
Stories as the cure for tribal propaganda:
Story, is both tribal propaganda and the cure for tribal propaganda. Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, advises his daughter that she’ll ‘get along a lot better with all kinds of folks’ if she learns a simple trick: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ This is precisely what story enables us to do. In this way, it creates empathy. There can hardly be a better medicine than that for the groupish hatred that comes so naturally and seductively to all humans.
A hero is never perfect:
It’s sometimes assumed that we root for characters who are simply kind. This is a nice idea, but it’s not true. As literary critic Adam Kirsch has observed, goodness is ‘infertile terrain for a writer’. If a hero starts out in perfect selfless shape there’s going to be no tale to tell.
There’s a sense in which all protagonists are antiheroes. Most, when we meet them, are flawed and partial and only become truly heroic if and when they manage to change.
The lesson of story is that we have no idea how wrong we are. Discovering the fragile parts of our neural models means listening for their cry. When we become irrationally emotional and defensive, we’re often betraying the parts of us that require the most aggressive protection. This is the place in which our perception of the world is most warped and tender. Facing these flaws and fixing them will be the fight of our lives. To accept story’s challenge and win is to be a hero.
Why do we sometimes root for villains?
When watching movies with a protagonist who is a villain we often have the alarming realisation that we’re actually rooting for these characters. This is because we’re being cleverly manipulated into doing so by everything that’s happening around them. They might be sex criminals, con artists and gangsters, but the world that’s created for them to battle against is such that we overlook their deviancies in spite of ourselves.
Usually these characters are set in environments where their motives and development can be witnessed and understood so we begin to feel for these characters and can offer them empathy we otherwise would not have been able to. Think of the recent movie Joker, you can’t but help feel sorry for him as his character takes a dark turn.
Sometimes we may realise awkward fact remains that, as we experience the story unfolding in our minds, we seem to enjoy ‘playing’ the antihero. Will Storr wonders if this is because, somewhere in the sewers far beneath our hero-making narrators, we know we’re not so lovely. Keeping the secret of ourselves from ourselves can be exhausting. This, perhaps, is the subversive truth of stories about antiheroes. Being freed to be evil, if only in our minds, can be such a joyful relief.
Shakespeares Genius – Character Ambiguity:
Why did King Lear decide to perform his ridiculous love test? The source play, The True Chronicle History of King Leir, provided an explanation: Cordelia wanted to marry for love while her father, the King, wanted her marriage to further his dynasty. The love test was a trick. Cordelia was expected to claim she loved her father more than her sisters, to which the King would respond, ‘So prove it. Marry who I tell you.’ In Shakespeare’s version, the cause of Lear’s dysfunctional decision is removed. This experimentation in denying neat explanations, writes Greenblatt, resulted in plays that were ‘immeasurably deeper’ than what had gone before. It’s often said the genius of Shakespeare lies in his psychological truth. Recent advances in the sciences of the mind show the extraordinary degree to which this is correct. Shakespeare had always been sceptical of ‘accounts, whether psychological or theological, of why people behave the way they do’.
Leaving his audiences to guess at the precise causes of a character’s actions enabled the playwright to toy wonderfully with their domesticated brains. There’s little more interesting to most of us than the causes and effects of human behaviour.
In making the answer to the dramatic question more mysterious, Shakespeare accessed our infinite wells of curiosity about other people and their oddness, generating a wonderful and enduring obsession with his characters and plays.
Such examples show the freedom writers have in playing with origin damage. They can hint at it and tease it, use it to build empathy, even orient plots around a hunt for it.
As Shakespeare well knew, we don’t usually become who we are in one defining moment. But if a writer is to conjure great characters on the page, they first have to model them vividly in their minds, and that means defining them precisely. They should be able to ‘see’ how they’ll behave in any dramatic situation and try to control the drama that flies at them.
This means imagining that event thoroughly, then deciding what flawed belief about the world or themselves it generated. Once the writer knows when it happened, how it happened and what flawed concept the incident created, their character can more easily come alive in their imagination.
If origin damage in story most often occurs in youth, it’s because it’s in the first two decades of life that we’re busy forming ourselves out of our experiences. It’s when our models of reality are being built.
What we see in our human environments is a product of our pasts – and, all too often, a product of our own particular damage.
The question of a plot:
Finding out who we are, and who we need to become, means accepting the challenge that story offers us. Are we brave enough to change? This is the question a plot, and a life, asks of each us.
Fundamental to successful stories and successful lives is the fact that we don’t passively endure the chaos that erupts around us. These events challenge us. They generate a desire. This desire makes us act. This is how change summons us into the adventure of the story, and how an ignition point sprouts a plot.
Characters should have goals:
Our goals give our lives order, momentum and logic. They provide our hallucination of reality with a centre of narrative gravity. Our perception organises itself around them. What we see and feel, at any given moment, depends on what we’re trying to get – when we’re caught in the street in a downpour, we don’t see shops and trees and doorways and awnings, we see places of shelter.
Goal-direction gives story much of its tension and thrill. As the protagonist pursues their goal we feel their struggle. As they grab for their prize, we experience their joy. As they fail, we cry out.
Humans are built for story. When we push ourselves towards a tough yet meaningful goal, we thrive. Our reward systems spike not when we achieve what we’re after but when we’re in pursuit of it. It’s the pursuit that makes a life and the pursuit that makes a plot. Without a goal to follow and at least some sense we’re getting closer to it, there is only disappointment, depression and despair. A living death.
The Archetypal Plot:
Following Jung, Booker outlines a character transformation he believes ubiquitous. At the story’s start the protagonist’s personality will be ‘out of balance’. They’ll be too strong or weak in the archetypal masculine traits of strength and order, or the archetypal feminine traits of feeling and understanding. In the happy resolution of the final act, the hero achieves ‘the perfect balance’ of all four traits and finally becomes whole.
The good news is that the understanding that plot is there only to test and change the protagonist serves to simplify and make sense of many of these seemingly disparate theories.
Act I: This is me, and it’s not working
Act II: Is there another way?
Act III: There is. I have transformed
Act IV: But can I handle the pain of change?
Act V: Who am I going to be?
What changes throughout a plot?
A plot should serve to orchestrate a symphony of changes. It’s change that obsesses brains and keeps them engaged.
The characters’ understanding of their situation can change.
The characters’ plan for achieving their goal can change.
The characters’ goal can change.
A character’s understanding of themselves can change.
A character’s understanding of their relationships can change.
The reader’s understanding of who the character is can change.
The reader’s understanding of what’s actually happening in the drama can change.
How stories remind us of our humanity:
The consolation of story is truth. The curse of belonging to a hyper-social species is that we’re surrounded by people who are trying to control us. Because everyone we meet is attempting to get along and get ahead, we’re subject to near-constant attempts at manipulation.
It’s only in story that the mask truly breaks. To enter the flawed mind of another is to be reassured that it’s not only us. It’s not only us who are broken; it’s not only us who are conflicted; it’s not only us who are confused; it’s not only us who have dark thoughts and bitter regrets and feel possessed, at times, by hateful selves.