Conflict of mystery, conflict of words

Basically in my last post the conflict I was talking about was the basic conflict between two different characters with wants that don’t align correctly, and one attempting to prevent the other (protagonist, antagonist) through various means by obtaining that desire. It fits well with the current magic mcguffin frame of storytelling that most genre attempts to use…but the more I think about it, the more other forms of conflict appear.

One such form of conflict that doesn’t require physical altercation or antagonism is the mystery. At first, a mystery might not seem like a conflict, but in actuality it is. It is a conflict between knowing and not knowing, a more existential conflict. One that has it’s own desire structure (desiring to know the mystery, etc), and the conflict and tension caused by trying to discover the basic revelation. This is one of the conflicts I do enjoy writing, and don’t find trouble with it. Probably because it’s more of an intellectual exploration, and less of a melodrama. I mean, in the end, most altercations based on opposing characters eventually devolve into melodrama. While a mystery? It involves a key, and a lock. And the desire to know what’s behind that door.

One interesting thing to note about this form of conflict is that fantasy and science fiction actually carry this conflict on a level of language itself.  It drops words, names, concepts, and then the reader uncovers them at some other point. The universe itself becomes a mystery, the exploration of what exists and how it differs from out current world becomes the propulsion of narrative and linguistic conflict. The knowing/not knowing takes on an even more complex game when presented in genre fiction in this way, the format becomes all consuming.

Another genre specific way of creating conflict and tension that is outside of the usual he said/she said, obstacles, etc is the sense of wonder. The wonder, which is key to some of the most pulp and literary genre works, is considered by some to be the reason to read. It has it’s own conflict, and that is the real and unreal. By placing something unreal in a realistic setting (and most sf/f do this, the realms are unreal only to a certain point, they still retain a reality, a grounding, an anchor so to speak) the conflict that arises is one of distortion. The sense of the actual distorts, it changes everything around it, charges it with strange subtleties.  The Surrealists movement thought these were rebellious actions, that by creating highly realistic unrealities, that they could shock our mind, breaking us out of the hypnotism of what we perceive as real.

Wonder, in my mind, tickles the same area of awe and awareness as surrealistic art, symbolic art, ritualistic art, occult art, etc. It all has that same mental tension, caused between the mind seeing something that is both powerfully strange and utterly real at the same point. It’s a potent conflict, no doubt. And it doesn’t rely on the melodrama of the characters to create a propulsion of narrative. The mystery, the wonder, can keep readers glued just as well as melodrama. Not that they can replace each other, or anything like that. More like they can enhance the other, create a more complex concept of narrative. One that doesn’t rely on a series of dramatic moments strung together without pause.

As I said in the last post, these are all just thoughts, only speculations. They are not do this, they are not do that. But they are more why? And why not? Thought experiments.

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