The narrative of illness

So, yesterday I was felled by illness. The night before, I lay wake hour after hour, aching and uncomfortable with stomach pangs. As the day went on, I felt worse, with hot and cold flushes, more pangs, total exhaustion, and I crept back into my bed for much of the day for further fretful sleeplessness. Even one of usual salves – watching one of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies – failed, as I just couldn’t concentrate. Inevitably, feverish thoughts roved to whether I had the dreaded swine flu.

Today, the day began with some queasiness, but as time has gone on I feel immeasurably better – I’m chipper, punning and have a renewed bounce in my step. Whatever battle my body was fighting, it reached some low points but it eventually won.

Which is what made me think of the parallel with narrative. Kurt Vonnegut said all stories boil down to ‘Man in a hole’: “Somebody gets into trouble and gets out of it. People never get tired of this.” Legions of Hollywood screenwriters (eg Blake Snyder, whose Save the Cat! book is quite interesting – and I’ve only just discovered he died a few weeks ago; or Christopher Vogler, who applies Joseph Campbell’s ‘hero’s journey’ analysis of myth to blockbuster movies) have made a career out of amplifying Vonnegut’s summary into detailed scene plans for film scripts. Everyone knows there are only three, seven, 20 or 36 plots (or eight, nine, 37, 69…) – or just one, really.

All of life is full of these little mini-dramas, overcoming challenges, confronting enemies, battling illness. It’s no bloody wonder we like stories so much – especially the ones where we win.