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Story going wrong panel addendum - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Story going wrong panel addendum [Jun. 26th, 2010|05:09 am]
Marissa Lingen
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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.

[User Picture]From: supergee
2010-06-26 12:28 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. The problems you're talking about are probably worse in sf, where there have always been people thinking, "OK, I've got this Nifty Idea. Now what else do I have to put in?"
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-06-26 09:58 pm (UTC)
And quite often what else they have to put in is Not Much.

To me, the answer there is to make a stack of nifty ideas and see where they will go around the edges of another story, because we don't have enough stories bristling with nifty ideas. Unfortunately a great many of the people who attempt to take this approach have, in my opinion, insufficient nift. This is possibly because I am a mean and judgmental person.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2010-06-26 02:08 pm (UTC)
The hair tearing comes in trying to pinpoint how for one beta it's glorious fun and for the next, tedious "goes nowhere."
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From: thoughtdancer
2010-06-26 02:30 pm (UTC)
So true. One thing I keep as primary--novels are a mode of communication, between me and my readers. They aren't primarily about story, character, style, Neat Ideas... they are about sharing an experience with real people who are reading the pages.

The first thing in my head is "will my targeted readers enjoy this?"--if not, out it goes (if I need the information to make the rest of it work, I'll tell it somehow, quick).

That's why I've been so desperate for readers: I want to make sure that my analysis is correct. The readers' enjoyment is what really matters in a novel, not my ability to pull of this or that neat trick (style, characterization, plot twist).

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[User Picture]From: timprov
2010-06-26 05:59 pm (UTC)
If you'd stuck around a little longer at the music party, you could have compared it to matociquala telling a story about Sonny Liston instead.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2010-06-28 08:47 am (UTC)
Right now, Tam Lin with digressions into Thundercats sounds pretty entertaining. (This may be because I've spent the last 3 hours catching up on a week's worth of e-mail. Should have gone to bed when I got home. So anyway...)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-06-29 12:50 pm (UTC)
I could not even open lj last night. I knew I would think, "Well, I won't remember where I stopped reading, and then when I go to 'previous' in the morning I'll have to skip a bunch more because people will have written more things," and like that, so I just had to feign being sensible and go to bed.

I still went to bed much too late. But in that one aspect, at least, I decided it could wait until morning.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2010-06-29 04:28 pm (UTC)
That was very sensible of you.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2010-06-29 05:35 am (UTC)
But the monkeys are crazy. (Just saying.)

Also, you now have me thinking about using impatient parents as a framing device.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-06-29 12:48 pm (UTC)
Do it. You know you want to....
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