To Challenge or Not?

Boy Standing on Iceberg


By Raymond M. Coulombe

Do you ever wonder why so many stories seem the same? Plots, characters, settings -so many stories are cut from the same template. Why is that and how much of a bad thing is it?

On one hand there are only so many basic stories about the human condition. For example, we have your typical boy meets girl story. Doesn’t matter if it’s boy meets boy, girl meets girl, boy meets alien from beyond the Galactic Rim. Same basic story.

The thing about familiar stories is that they comfort us. Often people like things to come out like they expect. That’s all well and good. Sometimes a person likes the familiar. The good guys win. People fall in love. Problems are solved. It reinforces one’s hopes and expectations for the world.

Then there are those stories that challenge the reader. Maybe the bad guys win. Maybe, like in much of life, there are no all good or all bad. Things are complicated.

That’s just the beginning. There are new weird genres that mix and match everything. You might start off thinking it’s S/F, but then it drifts into Fantasy, then surreal poetry, and before you know it it’s panda bears juggling ping pong balls but all the balls are worlds and there’s a talking banana. Yep, that challenges the reader.

If it’s done really really really well, then it’s possible that beyond just being odd, it’s a good story. When it comes right down to it, that’s the main thing. Tell a good story. A familiar story that’s doesn’t break new ground and is only competently written can still be satisfying. To write a story that challenges the reader, it needs to be well crafted. Your reader is not going down a well trodden path so you’d better not let go of his hand. When you are breaking all the rules, make sure your new rules all hang together tightly.

The only real crime here is truly bad story, be it familiar or challenging.

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