Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

Ambiguity September 17, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 2:38 pm

I’m getting the message from folk that are kind enough to critique my stuff that they don’t like ambiguity. This is a problem–I do. Almost everything I write has some level of ambiguity. There are no good or bad guys. There’s no evil. This is a bigger problem in fantasy, especially, where for the most part people expect no grey (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars). While this tendency is changing (George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series) the expectation, and the want, is still there. People want to know whether something is good or bad, whether they should root for it or curse it.

I’ve always challenged the notion of evil and will continue to do so. Stories of black and white tend to bore me–yes, it’s nice to have such clear distinctions, but in reality, few, if any thing, will be evil or good. Sorry, but in my stories, something just _are_, and you’ll be on your own to figure out right from wrong.

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3 Responses to “Ambiguity”

  1. Jade Park Says:

    There can still be ambiguity in message paired with specificity in image and characterization. (I don’t know if they’re critiquing your “message”/theme or if they’re critiquing the craft aspect of your pieces).

    I happen to agree with you–there are rarely outright bad or outright bad guys…and stories that are so black and white can be boring and predictable.

    But the characters can still have conflict. Frodo was a “good guy” but had his struggles with the Ring. Gollum was an ambiguous character (was he good? was he bad? he was definitely addicted to the Ring), but he was described in ABSOLUTELY SPECIFIC TERMS in his character, in his struggles, in his language, appearance, etc.

    So–I say the two (good and bad) can coexist. And I think there can be ambiguity in a theme to an extent (maybe the theme is “there is no good/evil” ala “there is no winner”).

  2. jadepark Says:

    I left a reply on this, but it then disappeared. maybe you deleted it, and if that is the case then I hope I didn’t offend!

    But I think that ambiguity is kind of the point of writing–there is no black or white, even in scifi/fantasy. Frodo struggled with the ring and his goodness was put into question at times. And gollum? He was neither bad nor good. These kinds of characters and the question of the in between pervade good literature.

    But then if they are critiquing lack of specificity (as opposed to “ambiguity”) then maybe so. Gollum is a very specific character with specific desires and personality and conflicts…even though he represents something entirely ambiguous.

    Anyway–that’s it. You are challenging yourself, that’s what matters most. It is easy to put things into black and white–more difficult to lay out the entire landscape and spectrum of grays.

  3. itsy Says:

    No, I didn’t delete! I don’t know what happened–I saw it on the site, too, and then it showed up as a comment needing approval. Maybe I’d inadvertently selected it somehow.

    Anyway, you bring up a good point about ambiguity of message. This is something I continue to struggle with.

    And you’re right, while Frodo was the good guy, he did sort of succumb to the ring. Even Luke sort of succumbs to a point. But Sauron, well, Sauron is still just Sauron. At least Darth has a history.


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