Our First Impression is Not Always the Correct Impression
You must read this amazing article from Nick C.! – Les
So, I was doing some research on psycholinguistics (the study of how the brain interprets speech and dialogue) and I came across this fascinating concepts that I had never heard of: The Garden Path Sentence. I think it has some really interesting similarities to the mistakes many of us make when interpreting a scene.
In short, a “Garden Path Sentence” is a phrase that is constructed in such a way to set up the reader to make an incorrect assumption about what is being said before they finish the sentence. Psycholinguists use it as an example of how the human brain processes language one word at a time as we read and constructs a logical narrative of what is being said before we finish the sentence. With a Garden Path Sentence, we see that what we initially assume to be the main point of the sentence is in fact not what we assumed. It’s easier to see it as an example:
“The old man the boat”.
The first time we read this, we assume that the sentence is beginning with the idea “The man, who is old…” but we are caught off guard when the sentence ends with “the boat” which is too abrupt and doesn’t make sense from our initial assumption about what it is talking about. Once we re-read the sentence again after having completed it, we see that the point is actually: “the boat is manned by people who are old”.
There are hundreds of examples of these kinds of sentences. Here are a few more:
“The man whistling tunes pianos”.
“The cotton clothing is made of grows in Mississippi”.
“The author wrote the novel was likely to be a best-seller”.
“The government plans to raise taxes were deflated”.
The essential error that humans make when reading these sentences is that they falsely conclude which verb is the active verb in the sentence and which noun is the subject. I feel that this has a direct correlation to the way many actors approach a scene or a piece of dialogue. Often times we begin reading a scene and start to make assumptions about what will likely follow, thus constructing thoughts that connect the statements logically, but we are often thrown by some piece of information that does not fit into our logic. This occurs because we have not allowed ourselves to be presented with the entire scene before constructing the threading that connects everything together. The pitfall is that some of us become so entrenched in our initial logic of the scene (read: line readings, thoughts, etc.) that we cannot remove ourselves from it. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the Garden Path Sentence is that we are not always correct in our initial assumptions about a scene, a character, or any other element of a piece of material. If there are elements that don’t seem to “make sense”, it is important to renew our view of the scene and approach it from the beginning again, anew.
Put simply, our first impression of a scene is not always the correct impression, and if there are gaps in the threading of a scene because it does not make sense given the various nuances of the dialogue or character actions, perhaps we need to restart.
I just thought you might find that interesting!