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To the Limit, Storytellers, Forthwith

What makes for great art? I won’t say I have no idea, but I am certainly on the shallow end of the pool, treading slowly and carefully deepward. One thing that does appear essential to me is the idea of limits. Without limits, and maybe more importantly, contrast, we don’t have much to show that will harmonize with reality on any level. Nevermind delight.

When I had the rare chance to learn from the brilliant Orson Scott Card, one thing he emphasized in world creation was this idea of limits. Our group had a long, involved, discussion that he directed on the limits of magic in stories. He emphasized that characters who can do anything and are not opposed by evil, even strong evil, are not memorable, or worthwhile.

He pointed out that Superman, at one point, had blown out a sun with his breath (like a candle). Boring. Good job Superman, but what now? Can this be the least bit interesting from here on? He said that shortly after that kryptonite was introduced, saving the character. This is why, perhaps, Batman is so much easier (seems to me) to tell a good story about than Superman.


Give me a limited, even a self-limited, character any day.

Limits are essential; cost is essential. Pain, suffering, and struggle are central to all worthwhile storytelling.

And so it is with the life of man.

We are, after all, art.


  1. The necessity of limitations is the great thing missing in today’s art, in my opinion. Old artists struggled with their medium, finding ways to transcend it–the painting that looks like a photograph (or a memory). The statue that looks like a living being. The symphony that sounds like the feelings in your heart. Today’s artist simply ignores the limitation. Take a photograph and call it a painting–who would dare tell the omnipotent Artist it’s not what he claims it is?

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