Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everything is Wrong

One of the best compliments I ever received went roughly as follows: "There's so much wrong here that a reader can't even begin to pick up the pieces."

No, it was not intended as criticism. To make a short story even shorter, the tale that sparked that comment involved a man without a head, a hobo decapitation, two neighbors and a ruffled flowerbed. The critic went on to explain that he meant that there was nothing in the situation the story described that allowed for an easy way to make things right.

And I love that, because I love chaos. There are any of a million stories where some problems arises and some person shows up to take care of it. They can be interesting. But what I really love is a story where nothing can be saved. Total chaos. Too many things wrong to even think of trying to right them. This is the kind of thing I mean.

Assume that the little vignette continues for a bit more. Can you picture anything stopping that amount of carnage? Why should we bother caring since these are only puppets?

In short, no help is coming. There is no way out. What does a character do then?

It's far more interesting to me to speculate on what happens in a story where there are no good options. What a character does when the potential outcomes of their actions are nearly equal is interesting. Say we have a protagonist named John, and an evil overlord named Biff. Biff has already ruined the land such that it will never recover. The people there might eke out a slightly better life without Biff before they inevitably go extinct. Possibly soon. Does John fight Biff? What would be the point? What if John is certain to die whether he does or does not confront Biff? What if Biff will curse the land with a pestilence that will render the land uninhabitable.

Without punishments, rewards or a way out, a character's actions become deeply personal. I guess that's what I like about pushing things to the point that there's no fixing them. Or, on the lighter side, so that only minor fragments of the machine can be pieced together, but the thing itself still ticks on to doomsday.

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