Flow Chart of the Damned: Stephen Graham Jones on Weird Fiction

Stephen Graham Jones--flowchart of the weird
(Stephen Graham Jones’ Flowchart of the Weird)

Writer and professor Stephen Graham Jones has been teaching a course at the University of Colorado on weird fiction, using The Weird compendium. His story “Little Lambs” – one of our favorites – is included in the anthology. As part of that class, he had his students create flowcharts to differentiate The Weird from other traditions. Above you’ll find Jones’s own flowchart, created at the beginning of the class, which we find fascinating. You can look at a larger version here.

We appreciate the “probably,” since some weird fiction will deviate from these patterns, but he has gotten at the heart of some of the distinctions between weird fiction and other types of fiction. And as Jones told us, by the end of the class he had come up with a more inclusive definition: “If it deviates from a reality we’re meant to accept as real, and if that deviation is threatening (or dangerous), and if that threat makes us less significant, and if that threat is neither conquered nor explained, then it’s weird fiction.” The threat part is interesting, as we here at WFR sometimes see the weird element as not necessarily threatening so much as pursuing its own aims.

What are your thoughts, dear weirdies? Agree? Disagree?

12 replies to “Flow Chart of the Damned: Stephen Graham Jones on Weird Fiction

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  10. I think it holds up, though there is one point where I am not exactly sure. The stage that asks, “Is the strange stuff here assumed?” left me wondering exactly what is meant by “assumed.” Of course if you compare a piece that is identified as magic realism to something that is definitely capital‑W Weird, the meaning can be deduced. I’m just unclear what the other option would be called. If the strange stuff is not assumed, what is it?

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  12. I really enjoyed this flowchart — it is far more succinct than any of the ways that I have described weird fiction! I’ve commented on it here:


    I would completely agree with your assessment on “threat,” by the way. I think there’s a tendency to immediately associate weird fiction with the settings and emotional content of horror, which it can certainly make use of, but you’re just as likely to find the weird in other generic settings — fantasy, mystery, etc. And the best sign that you’re in an encounter with the weird is that it *remains* weird, resistant to explanation, unsettling, deconstructing what you think you know, what you think you feel. One of the really effective things in Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is that different characters at different times perceive Area X as threat, as salvation, as apotheosis, as annihilation, as any number of things, and the reader cavorts through that grid, uncertain where to land yet fascinated and pulled ever deeper in.