Friday, May 14, 2010

Engineering Boundary Conditions and the Outer Limits of Literary Permission

One of the problem solving techniques that we were taught in engineering school was that of setting boundary conditions. Before solving the core problem, you defined the system by either knowing or assuming its behavior at its outer boundaries. You can do the same when creating literature. Different writers are comfortable with different boundary conditions, different limits, different edges-of-the-envelope.

Two literary techniques that I use to push my writing’s boundary conditions are literary cubism and absurdism. Literary cubism gives me permission to explore the outer boundaries of literature along the dimension of structure. Rather than narrative, I’ve used e-mail messages, legal documents, handwritten notes and poems to advance the story and define characters. There’s nothing that keeps me from using the structure of a play, a haiku, a grocery list, or someone’s doodle to achieve the same ends…and, in fact, I do in my most recent works.

Absurdism gives me license to dip my toes into the outer boundaries of literature along the dimension of premise. Can humans capture the Lord Our God and put him on trial? Sure. Do extraterrestrial intelligences co-exist with us in dimensions that we don’t perceive and, hence, don’t experience and can all this be happening right next to us at the present moment? Yes.

I encourage my fellow writers to push to the edge in everything, most certainly in your literary efforts. Edges set the tone. Edges dictate what’s permissible and possible. Edges are the crucible of creation.


  1. After reading Delaney's Dahlgren I realized that it was possible to write surrealism. My best short story is a 30 page surreal prose poem about my mother's death. Yes, always examine and push the boundaries of what's possible!


  2. Geoff,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. My original post focused on the literary dimensions of structure and premise, topics born of the intellect. You've expanded the topical foci to include emotions and matters of the heart. I applaud your courage as a writer, courage demonstrated in your ability to create literature around a topic that must be so deeply personal and emotive.

    Your fellow writer and student of literature,