|Story going wrong panel addendum
||[Jun. 26th, 2010|05:09 am]
Something I didn't get a chance to say during the comments on the story going wrong panel:
We talked, off and on, in the course of that panel, about the effect one wanted to achieve here, or about the purpose of this scene there.
I think it should be crashingly obvious, but I want to say it anyway: the goal of a story is not to get to the end. This may be more crashingly obvious for a writer who doesn't write front to back. But it's certainly obvious to the reader: if the goal was to get to the end, spoilers would be a blessing rather than ranging, depending on the person you're talking to and the story, from being obnoxious and horrible to being irrelevant to their enjoyment of the story. If the goal was to get the reader to the ending, you could just say, "SO ANYWAY, and then she held onto her boyfriend and the Queen of Air and Darkness couldn't get him, the end." This is what would happen if a 6-year-old was trying to tell you the Tam Lin story and the 6-year-old's parents knew exactly how many digressions into Thundercats and questions about how many ponytail holders it took to make your hair do that you were going to have to endure along the way.
The difference is, I really do run into short stories where it feels to me like the writer has paid no attention to voice, no attention to the experience of reading a story being different from the experience of hearing the elements of its plot. (This happens less with novels. First because it has to--very few things have 80K of sheer plot. And second because people who write novels almost always have read several decent novels first, often even outside English class.) It's as though that writer has an impatient parent trying to get them into bed: "Honey, they do not care about the time that Jill K. threw up in the back of the fire engine on a field trip. You are telling them about Janet and what she did about Halloween. Jill O.? All right, it was Jill O. This is not about the fire engine. This is about Halloween." Except that ideally if you are bothering to tell a short story in the first place, you are more experienced in the telling detail than your average 6-year-old and can do some sorting of which bits make the story, y'know, fun. (Parents are often wrong about how interested people are in someone who threw up in the back of the fire engine on a field trip. I mean, this is drama! Especially if she threw up on somebody. Then it's interpersonal drama!)
The story is going wrong when nobody is having any fun with it, writer or readers.
Yes, wanting to cry or puke or crawl under the table and hide can be a form of fun, depending on a lot of factors. Art is like that, and so are the monkeys.