Ridiculous vs Ridiculous

There was an excellent new podcast over at Writing Excuses called “From the Ridiculous to the Sublime.” The basic premise of the ‘cast is that you can spin an effective story out of an idea that, in an of itself or alone, sounds completely preposterous.

Afterward, I got to thinking that there’s a big difference between an idea that’s ridiculous and one that is Ridiculous.

There’s an important distinction that needs to be made between ridiculous (implausible) and ridiculous (silly).

Both can certainly be turned into sublime stories, but in different ways. I feel like turning something ridiculously implausible into a good story is as “simple” as adding wonderfully believable characters (see: Doctor Who).

I think taking something ridiculously silly and adding the elements for emotional response is much more difficult and is precisely why I have never liked anime or the Final Fantasy franchise.

Now, it goes without saying that we all have our own preferences in story and our own experiences that provoke various levels of emotional response, which is why it’s so important to know your audience.

Inception provides an illuminating example of this. The idea that thieves can navigate the subconscious dreams of a subject and pull out fully realized ideas is, of course, ridiculously implausible, but we suspend that disbelief because we want to experience Dom’s story.

However, as one friend put it, “In MY dreams, chickens turn into cupcakes and talk to me.”

I think Nolan could easily have let Inception slip into absurd dreamscapes and we would have forgiven him because, “hey, we’re already floating around in a dream world.” But the serious tone of the movie would have been compromised and I would have been less willing to believe the emotions that were juxtaposed to the talking baked goods.

In the end, whether something is implausible, silly, or both, what matters is whether the audience connects to it or not. Fiction at its fundamental level is about human communication that that’s not ridiculous or Ridiculous.

Encouraging…sort of…

As an artist, I have an anxiety that I think developed somewhere in the seventh grade. I entered a national poetry contest and placed well enough to be published in the book. I didn’t win the grand prize and I was fine with that.

What spiraled me into a jealous rage, however, was the poem that took First Place. It was some ridiculous concoction about how a personified Creativity walked into a cafe wearing fishnets and demanding black coffee. It didn’t even rhyme.

I sputtered in righteous indignation that my brilliant poem had been surpassed by something that was obviously written with the intent of pandering to has-been judges that had never been able to make a living with their art. I developed a deep fear that throughout my life I would not be beaten by those who were better, but by those who were worse and somehow luckier.

It probably goes without saying that my taste in other peoples’ art was not highly developed by the seventh grade. In defense of the winner (and the judges) the poem was probably pretty good. I’ve since learned to appreciate not only other peoples’ art, but other peoples’ opinion of art, even when it differs radically from my own.

This doesn’t mean that I’m not still prone to those fears, however unreasonable. I’ve started to submit my writing for publication and contests, including Writers of the Future. With some of these unresolved issues in tow, I recently picked up a copy of WotF XXIII, fully prepared to scoff at the lucky wretches who had somehow pulled a fast one on the judges.

The first story I read was pretty good. Actually, it was brilliant and well written.

The next story I read was genius.

I’ve since stayed up well past midnight on a couple of occasions, poring over the stories in the anthology with rapt attention and pleasure. I’ve been blown away by the quality of these stories, most of them better than a lot of professional anthology stories I’ve read.

While the contest seems more daunting than ever, I’m also encouraged. I’ve seen good work rewarded. If I’m going to be counted among writers of this caliber, published in WotF or elsewhere, then I’m going to have to stretch myself and I’m going to have to start stretching now.