Why Stories Favor the Fish Out of Water

harry potter and dobby in chamber of secrets

Another bias in fiction is what I would call the “fish out of water” bias, which simply means that a story is more likely to be told from an outsider’s perspective than an insider’s.

There are a few advantages to this. It’s easier for the audience to relate to a protagonist who has not been raised as part of a strange culture. The exposition is also simpler if the character learns stuff at the same time as the audience.

There are a lot of examples of this. Harry Potter grew up in the ordinary world before he went to Hogwarts. The guy who defeated the great evil threatening a society was an outsider, not because that’s the way it usually goes, but because it made for a more accessible story.

In The Godfather, Michael Corleone came back to the family after several years serving in Europe during World War 2.

This can be mythic. Joseph Campbell touches on this when he writes about the monomyth, and how there trends to be a period in the middle of the story where the hero is in a new world, eventually returning with new tools (We call that Act 3.)

One problem with this is that many consequential people grow up in closed and exclusive societies. Think of the Kennedys or the Trumps. And some of those people spend their entire lives in insular circles, never interacting with the fish out of water. So emphasis on one version of the story can result in neglecting other stories, that are truer to how the world really works.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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