Note: Previously published at this site September 9, 2015
We survive others’. Sometimes, we live them, but we don’t acknowledge them. Or we don’t see them. Until someone points the paradox out.
Paradoxes are contradictions and riddles. They pose as philosophical and logical questions that require time to unravel. Can God deny himself? If this sentence is true, then Germany borders China. A person’s belief system can be built around these riddles. And a writer can use them as a tool.
“To apply for this job, you would have to be insane; but if you are insane, you are unacceptable for the job.”
With any traditional story through-line and plot structure, a character is working to resolve a primary goal (unless you write a non-traditional story with a slice of life form.) But something gets in the character’s way before reaching the finish line.
That something could be a paradox.
What if the character’s belief system got in the character’s way? He must overcome an inner struggle. Or, this character fails in the end. Or, what if she struggles against a social structure built around a paradox? Does the group defeat the individual?
“It’s true that everything I say is a lie.”
Paradoxes serve writers as useful tools by adding philosophical depth to the work. After all, don’t most readers like to learn something, too? And a paradox/riddle may take a great deal of story time to unwind, adding mystery, suspense, and tension between the book’s covers. Any type of cover (genre) can work with a paradox.
Consider a time-travel riddle: As an adult, can I travel back in time and kill myself as a child?
If I did, I never would have become an adult.
I couldn’t have built that time machine. And I couldn’t have traveled back in time to commit a sci-fi suicide. (Sorry, but television shows and movies that show a person vanish at the end of the story are copping out: they don’t correctly unravel the riddle.) But you, the writer, may attempt to solve this riddle in the form of a very interesting story.
“After this phrase is over, it will officially be opposite day.”
What writer isn’t looking to make her or his work more interesting? A boring writer. But by stretching out beyond your comfort zone, by exploring philosophy and logic, you also exercise your imagination. And your stories take new directions.
But don’t take my word for it, because everything I say is a lie. And you can believe this is true!