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Bewildering Stories

Bill Bowler writes about...


The reference is to Jerry Wright’s editorial “Rejections,” in issue 196.

Dear Jerry & Don,

Thanks for sharing Silverberg’s thoughts on “the universal plot skeleton.” They are extremely interesting, yet I can’t help but chafe at the idea there is “an essential narrative formula that all successful writers of... fiction use.”

The part of the formula that gives me greatest pause is the requirement that the character faced with the problem “is in some way changed.” What about a character who SHOULD change, who has every opportunity to change, whose experiences in the story have shown the change that was needed — but who does not change. It’s a bit depressing, perhaps, but why couldn’t a beautiful and powerful story be written about a pathetic character who goes through hell and yet, in the end, has learned nothing.

After all, it’s the reader who experiences catharsis, not the character.

Keep up the good work,

Bill Bowler

Copyright © 2006 by Bill Bowler

Remember what I said about Picasso? He broke all the rules created by painting schools over the centuries, but he was successful because he KNEW those rules. He painted beautifully and accurately, and did some wonderful stuff. But because he knew HOW to paint beautiful rather than photographic pictures, he was able to break rules and create surreal, impressionistic, disturbing, but meaningful paintings.

The same is true for writers. Could a talented writer write a beautiful story about someone who COULDN’T — for whatever reason — learn, although the reader did? Certainly. But in the hands of someone who never learned the rules of story-telling, the story would be an unpleasant shambles. So, I agree with you, and we, with your approval, will print your letter and our reply.


Copyright © 2006 by Jerry Wright

Thanks for your feedback, Bill. Very thought-provoking. I can think of two stories offhand that may support your argument. Sorry to trundle out such heavy artillery:

Silverberg may have stated his principle a bit categorically; perhaps was summarizing Aristotle for the benefit of his audience. But no matter: in the end, stories are all we have; they are the way we think. Just as a “meta-grammar” of all languages may reflect the structure of the language capacity in the human brain, a meta-esthetic may likewise tell us whether a story, like a sentence, is complete or not.


Copyright © 2006 by Don Webb

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