Saturday, May 2, 2009

The internal logic of crazy things (otherwise known as fiction)

The other day, as part of a creative writing assignment, my kids were working on a skit. A condition of this skit was that it had to include: the Statue of Liberty, a supermarket, and a duck. It went like this:

1. We are customers in a supermarket. Of course, I said. That's how I'd begin the story, too, if I had to write it.

2. The Statue of Liberty is attacking the supermarket. Yikes! I said. Good story! And then what happens?

3. But it's okay, because mighty SuperDuck is here. Yay! Good story!

4. And now, it's raining squirrels. It's...? What....?

What do flying squirrels have to do with it?I asked. It doesn't make sense, I said. Actually, I whined.

They rolled their eyes. It's the Statue of Liberty, a duck, and a supermarket, they reminded me. None of it makes sense.

Oh, yes, it does, I insisted. Or at least it did, until the flying squirrels showed up. That's where you lost me!

I tried to explain the internal order of fiction.

I told them that the new story element was so random in the context of the story that they were building, that as an audience I was no longer willing to suspend my disbelief.

I am certain they thought I was off on a crazy rant.

Well, they wrote a different ending to the story, but I know it was only to humor me.

Fiction writers, beware! Especially writers of fantasy and science fiction. If it rains squirrels in your story, that's your business, but there had better be some sense to it all.


  1. I'm reminded of the film Magnolia with the frog deluge scene. Tens of thousands of frogs falling from the sky made perfect sense. Great storytelling.

  2. Your post makes me think of times when I have explored story telling with students and my kids.

    It's so tempting to try and control things. I agree that in good story telling their ought to be consistency and things ought to make sense.

    However, when working with kids, especially in a creative group project, I tend to think that keeping the open spirit of creativity going is the best thing.

    If things don't make sense to me as a teacher or a parent, I might ask, "So, why is that happening?" "Why are the squirrels falling from the sky?" Who knows, there might be a good reason. If not, the person who brought it up might realize the importance of having one.

    With that said, I've jumped in before and squelched the creative spirit and felt bad about it later. Perhaps that's why I have this take on the issue.

    It's fun to get silly with things,especially with kids.

    I don't remember the author's name, but there is a poet with a book called Writing Down the Bones. It's a great book and in it she talks about how a kid laughed and laughed when she read about a man that ate a car. It's just plain silliness. Sometimes that's the point, to entertain and escape reality.

  3. I used to tell stories to my son before he went to bed, but every once in a while, I would stop and say "and now what happened?" just to see what he came up with. The mind of a child is truly an amazing thing. When he was very young he came up with things that almost seemed random, but as he got older things made more sense. I wondered if that meant that his creativity was waning or if he wanted things to make more sense. I have never talked to him about it, but now, I think I will.

    Great post.

  4. Dave. Yes, I understand. I am not out to squelch creativity. At least I hope I am not doing that! I should have mentioned that these kids were teenagers, and my feeling was that they were looking for a fast and goofy way to just be done with this brief assignment. I probably would have gone along with the flying squirrels if these were younger children. Anyway, they ended up having the supermarket flattened in the battle, and one of the customers upset, but only because he had come to buy yogurt.

  5. Ha ha, flying squirrels! I love totally random things in a story, but only if they tie in well with the situation in SOME understandable way. I love fantasy. It's by far my cherry zone. But nothing annoys me more than a good book that throws in pointless oddities just to 'make things more interesting'. They only end up cluttering the writing and distracting you.

    That being said, I'm someone who can throw things like demon chickens, jail-breaking donkeys, and cats swinging from ceiling fans, into a story about everyday things that happen in real life. My life, anyhow... :)

  6. A. Gray: That makes perfect sense :) Thanks for posting.


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