The Negation of the Negation

There are lots of techniques to help with building good stories, and one of them works by looking at the general theme of the story. This technique is best used after most of the characters and plot have been developed, but some finishing touches are required. The reason is that the theme only becomes obvious after the plot is ready. It generally is not advisable to start with a theme – readers don’t want to be lectured, but entertained.

So let’s say the theme of our story is love. At some point in the story this emotion will figure in some way, for example by the guy and girl getting together. Now what we can do is look at the theme that is contrary to love. What’s contrary to love? Indifference. How can we use this in the story? Possibly the guy can start off by not caring about the girl in any way and ignoring her attention, or vice versa. Next up, what’s contradictory to love (i.e. what can you not easily have at the same time)? Hate, of course. So, after they fall in love, maybe the guy could (wrongly) suspect the girl of cheating, so he goes off and actually cheats himself on a drunken night out, comes back home with the girl he picked up and meets our girl. So they end up hating each other.

Finally, and this is the crunch, what is worse than hate? How about self-hate? The guy realises his mistake and blames himself for his stupidity. He becomes suicidal…at this point the story can have either a happy or sad ending, depending on the mood of the relevant author .

This worst possible case is called the negation of the negation, or worse than worse. In English, two negatives make a positive (e.g. I didn’t do nothing = I did something). The same goes in maths: (2 – (-2) = +4). Funnily enough, this isn’t the same in all languages. For example, in Italian, two negatives make a negative (e.g. ‘non ho fatto niente‘), which in some sense is more reflective of the way things tend to work in real life.

So what we have is:


Here are some other examples of themes – notice they all start with positives and go towards negatives:

Life -> Unconsciousness -> Death -> Damnation

Love -> Indifference -> Hate -> Self-Hate or Hate Disguised as Love

Loyalty -> Split Alliegance -> Betrayal -> Self-Betrayal

Justice -> Unfairness -> Injustice -> Tyranny

Wealthy -> Middle-class -> Poverty -> Wealthy but Suffering Pains of Poverty

Courage -> Weakness -> Cowardice -> Cowardice Percieved as Courage

Wisdom -> Ignorance -> Stupidity -> Stupidity Perceived as Wisdom

Freedom -> Restraint -> Slavery -> Slavery Perceived as Freedom

Success -> Compromise -> Failure -> Selling Out