Challenging Exceptions to the Laws of Fiction


In studying these fundamentals about fiction and how it operates, sometimes someone challenges one of the principles by trying to find an exception to it.

Occasionally, it is suggested that these universal laws that govern story-telling don’t apply to this or that example. And it’s true that, in any attempt to communicate maxims so profound, it seems that some special kinds of examples are left out. But this needs a closer look.

If we accept that at their heart most stories are to do with two poles being brought together - a core vacuum, an emptiness, a deep craving and need being fulfilled with something - we can immediately also see that some stories do not conclude with fulfilment of any meaningful kind and therefore we can jump to the conclusion that our definition of a story is incomplete. But stories which end with a core vacuum or central emptiness being filled are categorised as Comedies or Epics - these are the stories with ‘happy endings’; their opposites are Tragedies and Ironies, stories which end sadly or with gloomy introversion or even horror as their prime effect. How do certain principles come into play in these stories?

We saw in earlier articles how the two poles in stories are pictured or represented as archetypal figures. One end of a spectrum we could see represented by the antagonist, while at the other end was a wise and usually balanced old figure. Between them lay the full gamut or range of characters, from the shadow protagonist to the comic companion. The movement and interrelationships between these roles then ‘acted out’ the coming together of the two poles of the tale. At least, in Comedies and Epics, which form over 90% of stories, the two poles come together in a happy ending; in Tragedies and Ironies, the two poles remain painfully apart, creating entirely different effects for the reader or audience.