Categorising experiences

Another way we can express judgments and values about the world  is by categorising our experiences.

For example, how does the narrator in this snippet classify their behaviour in their early years at school?

I didn’t really get into that much mischief at school, but I did make some mistakes. I remember once I went on a field trip to the zoo and the teacher specifically told us not to make eye contact with the gorilla. But… well, me and a friend thought it would be a good idea to do the exact opposite of what we were told, so we climbed up on the ledge, looked into the enclosure and made eye contact with the gorilla.

The narrator defines bad behaviour as either mischief or mistake:

  • Mischief is when you did something you knew was wrong.
  • Mistake is when you did something that you didn't know was wrong.

Using those two buckets, the narrator categorises their own behaviour: "I didn't do mischief, but I did make mistakes."

(The narrator then expands with a story to explain what happened and why they make that judgment, which you may or may not agree with.) 

So when we are categorising things, we can say they are X and/or they are not Y.

Why is this important to the narrator?

We make this kind of distinctions when we want to be clear and we don't want people to misunderstand.

The narrator in this snippet (the football player, Adam Goodes) wants people to think he was a good kid, just a little silly at times.

How does Frederik categorise his relationship with his neighbours?

It was less a rivalry than a vendetta. This wasn't about trying to outdo each other from season to season, it was about destroying the den Houts so utterly that they should be shamed into moving to Belgium.

How does Cody categorise her style of skating?

Despite spending most of my time in the pool, I'm more of a cruiser than a vert. One time I went to a comp and faceplanted on my first drop-in. I came dead last with an 8-year old who was padded out like the Michelin man. But I'd say I looked pretty good cruising home.

Some classification is objective and some is subjective.

For example:

  • "What animal is that?" requires objective judgment about zoology.
  • "Is this a cowardly or heroic act?" requires subjective judgment about values.

They're both forms of evaluation, but one tells us about what someone knows, and the other tells us about what they value.

Ideally, have the character describe a category we might think would apply, and then have them offer a more precise alternative.

Think in terms of:

  • Not a... but a...
  • More of a... than a...
  • Less of a... than a...
Write a snippet in which the narrator clarifies how something is categorised.

Categorisation is interesting because it requires thinking about one thing in terms of something else.

For example, on this page we had to think about staring at a gorilla in terms of mischief or mistakes.

But once we start thinking of things in terms of other things, we open the door to the wild possibilities of metaphor.