Friday, August 17, 2012

Entry # 85 - "The Amazing Possibilities of Hope"

Author Kim Barnes says, “The possibilities of hope and the probability of loss drives fiction and compellingly leads to discovery for both readers and writers.”

Atlantic Storm Front - Summer 2012 - Jan Bowman

A friend recently said,  “I wish you’d write more happy things, Jan.  Why do stories need to have some kind of problem? You ‘writer types’ just focus on conflicts and disaster. Somebody is always losing something. Why is that?”

So I’ve been thinking about all the ‘doom and gloom’ in fiction, and I’ve concluded that fiction isn’t well served unless there is a problem.  Without a problem to resolve, there is no story. There is only an anecdote, which has no beginning, middle or ending that brings hope or epiphany or satisfaction. If a character has nothing to lose, if nothing is at stake, a story ceases to be interesting. Readers need to have hope for the characters in fiction. Loss drives fiction, or even the slightest risk of loss drives fiction, but so does hope. Without hope there’s little reason for readers to turn the pages. Adding a struggle requires the reader to connect, to hope for the best. Conflicts cause characters to gain purpose.  It gives them a sense of direction and helps hold the reader’s interest.

Without conflict, without a problem, a story has no forward motion.  Nothing happens.  And even if you are an old Seinfeld fan (or you grew up watching the reruns), it was a show that described itself as ‘a show about nothing,’ and yet something always happened. And that something was what we recognize as life. Perhaps no one seemed ever to grow up or grow old or evolve in most of the episodes, and shallowness marked the full measure of the characters, but issues and conflict drove the story lines. And viewers held out hope for Jerry's friends, hapless and clueless Elaine, or George or even Kramer.

Challenges and conflict are life! Basic descriptions of conflict in fiction abound, but the three essential ingredients require: characters who want or need something (emotional or material or spiritual); loss can occur over what is at stake, if they don’t get it; and in the progress of the story something or someone gets in the way. As characters interact to gain their desires, their goals either connect or clash, and how they respond becomes the basis for plot. And what readers hope for while reading about this conflict drives the story.
Atlantic Hope - Summer 2012 - Jan Bowman

“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” 
 --- Vaclav Havel.

“Hope is a good thing—maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.”
 -–  Stephen King.

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:


  1. This piece is very perceptive. Something one sort of knows but can't put in words. Thank you Jan.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. You must be a 'reader' and I am happy that you shared your thoughts. Jan says...

  2. This has been one of the most popular, most read reflections essays on my site. Thanks for reading and sending me comments. Jan