We're All Stories in the End: On the Moral Pitfalls of Narrative Journalism
The writer, in translating a blood-and-flesh human being into sentences and periods, reduces his subject to a mere character and thereby dehumanizes him. In treating my subjects as characters and their lives as stories, I risked trivializing them. The moment writers presume to impose a narrative structure on a fellow human being’s life—converting their ugly impulses to “character flaws,” their psychological struggles to “character arcs,” their agonized perseverance to “character development,” their emotional wounds to “drama,” their worldviews to “themes”—the moment they do all of that, they risk obscuring the humanity they’re trying to illuminate, risk burying their subject by trying to unearth them. Forcing a person into a classical narrative model is like forcing a sheet of glass into a too-narrow frame: you might make it fit, but the resulting cracks preempt an even remotely recognizable reflection. What then is the point?