(un)common ground

a commonplace book

Constructing and Resolving Tension

Tell me no pointless jokes. I will laugh at your refusal to allow me laughter. Build me no tension toward tears and refuse me my lamentations. I will go find me better wailing walls. Do not clench my fists for me and hide the target. I might strike you, instead. Above all, sicken me not unless you show me the way to the ship’s rail.

For please understand, if you poison me, I must be sick. It seems to me that many people writing the sick film, the sick novel, the sick play, have forgotten that poison can destroy minds even as it can destroy flesh. Most poison bottles have emetic recipes stamped on the labels. Through neglect, ignorance, or inability, the new intellectual Borgias cram hairballs down our throats and refuse us the convulsion that could make us well. They have forgotten, if they ever knew, the ancient knowledge that only by being truly sick can one regain health. Even beasts know when it is good and proper to throw up. Teach me how to be sick then, in the right time and place, so that I may again walk in the fields and with the wise and smiling dogs know enough to chew sweet grass.

I ask for no happy endings. I ask only for proper endings based on proper assessments of energy contained and given detonation.

Ray Bradbury, “The Secret Mind” (1965)

Bradbury provides an intriguing drama prescribing the construction and resolution of tension in the writing of fiction. Contained therein is probably an implicit criticism of New Wave sci-fi or of contemporary literary fiction (or more likely, modern theater, as the essay continues). But Bradbury’s dramatic formula is compellingly simple.

I find this passage interesting because of its assumption of writing as effector, as an instrument of effect in readers. To Bradbury, fiction’s purview rightly encompasses “every horror, every delight” so long as they are “carried to their furthest perimeters and released in action.” In this frame of reference, fiction (and drama) is a teacher, an effector.


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This entry was posted on July 26, 2015 by and tagged , .
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