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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories discusses...

Conflict and Resolution

with L. L. Richardson

In response to “What Is a Story or Poem?” the author of “A Reason to Worry,” in issue 739 writes:

[LLR] In response to your discussion query, what is a story: we say we write stories, so it’s useful from time to time to review what we mean by story. My own definition is a story presents a conflict followed by a resolution. How entertaining the story is depends on the skill of the story teller. A good story teller creates a conflict that the reader finds compelling.

A compelling conflict must have a satisfying resolution, but a really good story will leave the reader pondering whether there are other possible resolutions.

The best stories will trigger discussion among readers, maybe even some arguments about both the conflict(s) and the resolutions(s). I would love to hear one of my stories is that good.

[DW] Thank you for the discussion response, L. L. If our respective “arguments” were geometrical figures, they would be similar but not congruent. And that suggests substantial agreement.

The word “conflict” is useful, of course. To me, it suggests heroic epics such as the Iliad and the rip-snorting Song of Roland, which can be read as 12th-century Crusader propaganda and which is, at most, approached by 20th-century WWII cinema.

I avoided the word “conflict” because I had all of literature in mind. What of 18th- and 19th-century travel literature? Lyrical or discursive essays? And lyric poems? In such genres, “conflict” seems limiting. And that’s why I chose the metaphor of a “proof.” Given: All of literature. To prove: What literature does. Argument: It examines cause and effect.

In “A Reason to Worry,” conflict may be there, but it’s very hard to define. Does the conflict consist of a terrorist group’s war against “noetics”? Well, yes, but that conflict is in the background; we hear of it second-hand. Is there a conflict between Jim, who worries, and his noetic wife Monica, who can’t? No, Jim can do the worrying for her.

“Conflict” is a concept that is useful up to a point. Beyond that point, I prefer cause and effect. In “A Reason to Worry,” the cause is Monica’s being a potential victim of stereotyping, an object of violence because of what she is. The effect is Jim’s worrying about her safety.

I consider your story “truly Bewildering” because it is, first, an obvious human allegory and, second, it implicitly asks the readers what Jim and Monica can do. The story has no “resolution” and, probably, can’t have one.

Does the Song of Roland have a resolution? At the end, Charlemagne weeps for the knights he has lost and the prospect of continued war with the Saracens. Your story is no heroic epic, L. L.; it’s a small domestic drama in science fiction mode, but it does imply large consequences. Is it “good”? That’s for each reader to say. But you need have no worries; you’ve seen what it can do. And you can take comfort from being on the right track.

Why go to all this trouble to say that literature must have meaning? Because not everybody agrees. Nihilists may, at best, engage in circular reasoning. Or, worse, write nonsense. At worst, they act as though life itself were meaningless and draw the only rational conclusions they allow: murder and suicide. Literature affirms life by addressing questions of its own or any time.

© Copyright November 27, 2017
by L. L. Richardson
and Don Webb

Responses welcome!

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