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More on paradox
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: More on paradox
- From: email@example.com
- Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 09:29:32 US/Mountain
- Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sender: email@example.com
I'm guessing my original message didn't make it to the mailing list, so I am
sending a copy directly to idrama. Also, I have added a brief P.S. at the end,
to supplement my earlier response to Walt, which follows.
> Could you explain further the nature of the paradox you refer to?
> Meanwhile, let me see if I can pick at a few threads...
> >This is not quite the same thing as what you described, about giving game
> >players explicit subgoals that accomplish, through their interactions, an
> >overarching goal - but these approaches have a lot in common, and they share
> >a common limitation, one not too hard to point to. They make sense within
> >a restricted reality, one in which we are likely to miss the messy richness
> >of the real world.
> I was referring to current styles of computer game design, not because we
> should emulate them but because I wanted to point out that some progress
> _has_ been made in game narrative since the days when coin slot video arcade
> games set the pace for game design.
> I'm not sure that losing some of the messy richness of the real world is a
> bad thing. I think this is a quality of almost all narrative; indeed, perhaps
> of all craft. "Simplification:" it takes fewer bits of data to codify the
> movements of the dancers in a ballet than to codify the movements of the
> shoppers in a supermarket; fewer bits to codify the notes of a symphony than
> the sounds of a city street. In literature high and low, the snow always
> melts promptly on the first day of spring. Would adding a more realistic
> weather model be an improvement?
There is certainly plenty of room for clarification of my original statement.
In places it sounded sort of esoteric, a bit like something written in the
middle of the night, trying to capture the highlights of a dream. In any case,
I have at least managed to provoke some fascinating observations from your end
of the wire. I must confess that I woke up this morning with a seemingly clear
image of what needed to be said in this note. Had I actually managed to record
that image, you would no doubt have still more esoteric writing to contend with
at this point. As it stands, I have a chance of producing something better
suited to the light of day.
What I wanted to communicate concerned a notion that I have labeled "paradox,"
something I have been struggling to get my head around. I certainly agree that
simplification is not only desirable but also essential to the craft. In fact,
what I find most interesting about this particular notion of paradox is that it
could allow one to motivate a story world -- by definition, a restricted
reality -- in a way that I have not seen before.
The Cambridge American dictionary defines paradox as "a statement or situation
that may be true but seems impossible or difficult to understand because it
contains two opposite facts or characteristics". For the writer, I see paradox
as the basis for a sort of compositional device, in particular, for working
with a certain type of conflict. And yes, I also have, from the same source,
the definition of conflict: "an active disagreement between people with
opposing opinions or principles."
It seems clear that, for the writer, the term 'conflict' refers more to a
concept that is illustrated by placing story characters in the kind of active
disagreement just noted. In the usual case, a conflict progresses through
various phases until it is somehow resolved, and the progress of the story
depends heavily on this movement toward resolution. I am not trying to say
anything new here about conflict as such, but this seems like a fair way of
Paradox is a notably different species of conflict, if we could properly call
it that. A paradox is never resolved, at least not in any obvious way.
Instead, it behaves more like a black hole, if I may use such an analogy. The
driving force of paradox is that the character expends a great deal of effort
to avoid being overwhelmed by it. A certain momentum is needed in order to
maintain a safe distance from the black hole.
Not to wax philosophical for too long, but the juxtaposing of life and death
could perhaps be considered the ultimate paradox. From a commonsense point of
view, this situation seems impossible or difficult to understand, so we
maintain the momentum of life in order to avoid, if not death itself, the fear
of death. Similarly, we maintain a certain level of mental chatter in order to
avoid emptiness, and so on. I'm not trying to say anything new about
psychology either, and hope to be able to make use of this material without
sounding too Freudian.
What is novel for me here is that this "black hole" property of paradox can
actually serve as a driving force for a story, and in a special role that
cannot be filled by other kinds of conflict. And surely it does exactly that
in many stories, but I have never seen this kind of thematic treatment of the
subject in my various attempts to learn something about writing stories. Am I
missing something? Maybe it is because there are so many varieties of paradox
that it hardly makes sense to group them together, though I find my reasoning
here pretty compelling in favor of doing just that.
I have a good bit more in mind to say along these lines, but maybe this is
adequate to at least respond to your request for explanation. One last thought
for now is that the only resolution to paradox is to learn how to accept it.
(Except of course for the paradox of romantic love, which has no resolution at
all but to celebrate it on Valentine's Day and endure it the rest of the year :-
P.S. A further thought: There should be a better way of providing resolution
to a paradox, through character growth and change. If a character can learn to
accept something, it should gradually lose its tenacious grip. The character
has managed to get beyond its gravitational field, so to speak.
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