All countdown stories

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RSchibler
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All countdown stories

Postby RSchibler » Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:28 am

I’ve mentioned this precise phenomenon to a few writing friends recently based on stories I read in the pro magazines. Curious to hear your thoughts.

https://drmauser.wordpress.com/2018/06/28/fizzle/
Trying to refute entropy with words.

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amoskalik
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby amoskalik » Wed Jul 18, 2018 10:54 am

RSchibler wrote:I’ve mentioned this precise phenomenon to a few writing friends recently based on stories I read in the pro magazines. Curious to hear your thoughts.

https://drmauser.wordpress.com/2018/06/28/fizzle/


I've noticed this in a few stories lately. From a writer's point of view, I understand why it happens. Sometimes it feels more appropriate to not wrap things up, because the ending is bigger than any story could encapsulate.

But as a reader, I always find it annoying. Don't tease me. They call it a climax for a reason. Don't leave it out.

Therefore, what I have trouble understanding is, why do these stories get published? Not for lack of stories that do have climaxes.
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby YM Pang » Wed Jul 18, 2018 8:13 pm

Maybe I'm reading different magazines than this person, but I haven't noticed this. Or maybe it's because:
1) I consume a sizable amount of non-western/non-American media, and (from what I've observed) there seems to be more acceptance of open endings there. So my personal tolerance metre is probably different.
2) It's a short story. If there's one place where you can write an open ending, it's here.

If the complaint is more "no climax" rather than "no resolution" (I'm not entirely clear which it is), then I'd understand. I don't necessarily notice a recent trend though. (I do notice some other trends I'm not a fan of--e.g. "the uber confusing story"--but I don't really expect to like every story in even my favourite magazines. Just like I don't end up "liking" a good chunk of the books I read, even though I recognize they have merit and there's a reason they've been published).
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orbivillein
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby orbivillein » Wed Jul 18, 2018 11:07 pm

The blogspot post is more rant than analysis. Part of the agenda, too, is propaganda. The reader didn't understand the story analyzed, that the story is actually about how many complex influences define life; that is, the ages-old debate among determinism, destiny, fate, preordained status, and free will.

All countdown and no blastoff is a plot shortfall. Or no plot at all, common enough for short stories that are anecdote, vignette, or sketch rather than true drama. Anecdote, vignette, and sketch are portraits, snapshot-like of, respectively, an event, a setting and milieu, or a character. The blogposter's example is of an event anecdote; an individual loses a loved one and is stuck in a figurative bathtub and attempts and fails to meaningfully cope or do anything transformative about the loss and ends still undecided, though leans toward a closure outcome of grief's acceptance. The story scene division is structured along the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, event progression enough for an anecdote. Anecdote, vignette, and sketch invariably are open-ended and common for short prose.

Drama, on the other hand, is a motion portrait that portrays a transformative movement from one emotional equilibrium state to a disequilibrium upset to a new emotional equilibrium, or a start, middle, and end, or an incitement act, an effort act, and an unequivocal, irrevocable outcome act, and, along the journey, equivalent degrees of personal growth and personal cost or personal decline and cost transpire, and, in the end better or worse off, morally as well as physically, emotionally, fiscally, etc., status-wise than at the start, includes a single overall dramatic situation, an event sequence, an influential setting and milieu or relevant settings and milieus, a limited ensemble of contestants and influence characters, and an invisible, bystander, or involved observer-narrator. The overall argument depicts a want and a problem, both of which challenge resolution, or closure at least, proportionate to a story's length.

True countdowns are widely deprecated, due to they mark and call undue attention to milestones, benchmarks, plot pivots, melodramatic situations themselves, and forcefully tell readers circumstances are important regardless of whether they are or aren't. Worse, actually count down: T minus ten . . . zero, ignition; three, two, one, jump; ready, steady, start; on your mark, get set, go. The language and circumstances best stand alone without a counted, numbered, or outlined markers of division, which white space and portion breaks are all that prose and readers need to imply and infer separation into discrete dramatic units. Otherwise, too much writer overt hand on the keyboard and story's tiller.

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Re: All countdown stories

Postby amoskalik » Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:20 am

OK, I actually read the Cat Rambo story now. I like it. I did not feel like it ended abruptly. Its arc began and ended where you would think it would, so I agree with Orbivillein, the blogposter missed the point.

I have seen stories recently though just seemed to cut off mid-arc or even sooner. Maybe in those cases, I was the one who missed the point. I suppose that is a danger in speculative fiction. It is easy to have too many shiny new objects and then they distract the reader from what you are really trying to say. Rambo's story was about grieving, not about cloning technology, or the privacy implications of shunts.

Nor was it about the culture wars and getting a dig in at conservatives. I thought that little bit the blogposter was complaining about was a nice touch, because it showed how exhausted the main character was with everything, how distant the world had become to him. "Which Gulf War are we on? I lost count."
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby RSchibler » Fri Jul 20, 2018 5:14 am

Orbivillein, Amos, & YM. Thanks for the discussion.

I do agree the blogger had a political angle as subtext (and more) that colored the post.

I did find it interesting that they shared my observation that a number of stories just seem to end, instead of concluding. When I write a story, I try to make sure my protagonist changes in some way, or doesn't but for a reason, or the situation changes meaningfully, etc. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end. I've read several pieces just in the last month that have beautiful prose, compelling plots, but didn't seem to end or conclude in a meaningful way.

One of those was exploring a non-Western mythology, and I am interested in the idea of different cultures telling stories with open endings. I know Japanese storytelling can feel aimless to western audiences. I feel like sometimes the pieces were more literary, in the sense that the prose itself was the point, or the exploration of a milieu, and not a character or plot. I wonder if this might come down to the publishing worlds embracing of diverse worldviews and perspectives.

I agree a bit with Amos, though, in that I like stories that draw some kind of conclusion, whether I agree with that or not. I think that's part of the point, for me. FWIW I enjoyed the Cat Rambo story as well, I felt it did conclude itself when the characters shift in mindset.
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby vjalrik » Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:55 am

I was just reading Deep Magic's guidelines and saw they listed it as one of their top 3 problems a couple of years ago, so it must be fairly common:

https://www.eschlerediting.com/top-thre ... -mistakes/

For me, it's usually just laziness. You get through the climax and get to what seems like a good stopping point and it's tempting to just be done, though some things may still be unresolved. Starting the resolution can feel like starting a new story in some ways.
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orbivillein
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby orbivillein » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:35 pm

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, 1952, among the most if not the most maligned "plotless" stories of recent times, intentionally refuses a climax "blastoff" or resolution, denies anything conclusive for the end. Many spectators believe the play is a lark at their expense, though, really, speaks to audience expectations met, unmet, or turned back upon them as the butt of a prank, or, actually, anything but a prank or joke.

The play is also widely admired for its philosophical metafiction that turns on spectators understanding the play's meaning for themselves -- rather than be told what to think, feel, do, etc., the ways Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot to come and tell them what to think, feel, do, etc. The play's moral message is consciously, critically, responsibly think, do, feel, etc., for yourself, otherwise, others will, to your detriment and theirs.

Among story, structure, and outcome types, the Godot type is as ancient as storytelling, only that the type is far less common than the by-far most common resolution type. Into each life variety's spice will come soon or late, more late due to the broader experience and enhanced interests and appreciations thereof that a long lifetime fosters.

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Re: All countdown stories

Postby YM Pang » Fri Jul 20, 2018 7:57 pm

For me, stories need to have an "ending." But I'm not so sure they need a "resolution," especially in short fiction. I don't need to know the fates of all the characters, or even their ultimate success/failure if the beginning (and story length) didn't set up those expectations. I only get annoyed if something grand was set up and it didn't happen.

I evaluate open endings based on intent and meaning. If the open ending was the "easy" route (e.g. Character is supposed to make difficult choice and doesn't make it), then I'm usually not a fan. If the open ending adds something thematically, however, and if it doesn't feel like the easy way out, then I don't have an issue with it.

Indication that the ending didn't work: If I quickly forget what the ending was.
Indication that the ending really worked: If the ending made me think more highly of the story than I did while I was reading.
Maybe it's harder to do the latter with an open ending, but a good story should at least avoid the former. ;)
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby amoskalik » Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:03 am

YM Pang wrote:Indication that the ending didn't work: If I quickly forget what the ending was.


This.
I couldn't think of the title of recent story that had this issue or even what it was about. The only thing I remember is feeling annoyed. And that is why a non-ending ending is a bad idea. We really need to leave our readers with something or our story will fade faster than the time it took to read it.
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby RSchibler » Fri Jul 27, 2018 10:14 am

I did a writing prompt on reddit the other day and when I got to the end of the scene I'd come up with, I realized I had no idea how to end it satisfactorily. Endings are, for me anyway, the hardest part of the stories I write. They are the element that changes over and over again, getting rewritten and discarded multiple times, searching for that impact or as DF says the "Emotional/Intellectual Payoff" of the piece. I can understand writing a story that just ends, but the reason I posted in "Publishing" instead of "Craft" is this- why are editors buying these stories? What about them is currently seen as marketable or appeals to a broad audience? I have no answers, but since I've seen the phenomenon a few times, it must be something of a trend.
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amoskalik
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Re: All countdown stories

Postby amoskalik » Fri Jul 27, 2018 11:23 am

RSchibler wrote: What about them is currently seen as marketable or appeals to a broad audience?


Let's post links to these types of stories here as we run across them so that we can analyze. I am curious as well.
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