it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

The Aha! moment and the Idea Story

We were talking about idea stories last night--idea stories defined at the short, sweet little SFF dealies where there's little conflict or character development, where the story essentially ends as soon as the idea is made manifest, and where the idea itself seems to be the center of the story. There are a lot of successful ones.... "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," (le Guin</a>), "Footnotes," (Finlay), "The Nine Billion Names of God," (Clarke), "The Manhattan Telephone Book (Abridged)" (Varley), and so on... and we were talking about how they differ from a "widget story." We couldn't think of a successful example of a widget story, but we've all read a lot of failed ones.

What we came up with regarding why they were successful was this:

1) They're short

2) They do create conflict--in the *reader.* Not just an "Aha!" moment, but an eagerness to understand, a frustration (My own idea-story, "Schrodinger's Cat Chases the Super String," is about the unknowability of the universe in opposition to humanity's desire to keep kicking this thing until we figure out how it works), a sorrow, a denial, a realization.... could I walk away from Omelas? do I really want to know God that much? Whatever.

3) They get out immediately after the punchline. Smack you in the nose once ,and leave you blinking before you come back.

There's some of these in literature, too. "The Lottery," "The Lady and the Tiger," your average O. Henry story.

It's kind of a cool thing to figure out.

Whereas widget stories are essentially, "Here is a cool widget. It goes bleep."

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