Morning post-shower insight (also, in light of reading Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey):
Stories are the Western version of Zen. The basic western story is, "Person can't figure out how to handle something, what to do; person learns from various people what to do; person does what's necessary after a change in attitude" or, if you like, "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again after not being an ___." The characters, too, aren't people so much as they are fragments of the situation. Obstacles. Helpers. Goals. But, essentially - not real people, but functions. The character discovers - or fails to discover - the answer was inside them all along. Enlightenment!
Hm. It seemed much more impressive when I got out of the shower.