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.