1. Amphetamine Stoat
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    Amphetamine Stoat New Member

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    Grim Hopelessness as a Theme

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Amphetamine Stoat, Mar 3, 2014.

    For whatever reason I've become inspired and want to write something that mimics the tales of great heroes and adventurers going on quests, except I'd like to pervert it. I want to write about grim, realistic, combat and make the heroes fail miserably. I'd like the entire story to come off as oppressive, defeating, and have the heroes' quests be ultimately futile.
    Thing is I don't really know how I can pull this off, and if I did, who would even want to read it? And yes, I am anticipating all the jokes about how this is a great start to writing about defeatism. How do I advance the story if everything is hopeless? Maybe the characters could just barely get by in everything, but that is a sort of victory. If I could chart out a story line in which the heroes fail in increasingly terrible ways, what audience wants to read about hope being crushed over and over again when I don't have anything that interesting to say like some great Russian writer?
    I guess what I'm asking is what steps would some of you more experienced writers take in order to achieve this goal? I understand the importance of 'just writing the damn thing already' but at the same time I've never really written anything other than very short stories and humor, so this is a major switch for me.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm.... Well, Tweaked-Out Mustalid, could there perhaps be a side-story, a love interest, a something else that can keep the reader moving forward through the story? You already mention that, unlike the great Pусскиe writers with grand themes and highfalutin knowledges to impart upon us mere mortals, you don't foresee a deeper scaffolding, a message, dare I say it, a polemic moral to give to us. Without some crust of satisfaction on one level or another, I can't imagine a reader sticking with it, other than those who might also be aficionados of snuff films.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The first thing I would do is read some books/stories that fit this theme. Some examples include Camus' The Stranger and any essays he has written on this topic, Dostoevsky's short stories and possible his novella Notes from Underground, Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, and Sartre's Nausea. In all of these works, however, there has been an element of redemption or acceptance at the end (sort of like an epitome but not quite).
     
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  4. Amphetamine Stoat
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    Amphetamine Stoat New Member

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    At the moment things are swimming in my brain a bit, but I've thought about a small group of people who are undead journeying... somewhere to finally die. That doesn't really help me much in the entertainment department except that someone might think it was a neat idea. I've thought of philosophical discussion, but again, that isn't too interesting for many potential readers. I suppose the combat is what I'm most confident about. I've studied medieval to renaissance melee combat quite a bit and participated in a bit of boxing, which while being far from first hand experience, is still a good place to stand when thinking about how a battle is going to play out.
    Though I'll admit it seems like using violence to maintain interest is kind of a cop out.
     
  5. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not if you focus more on the "why" of the combat than you do on the "what."

    Just saying "She did this maneuver, saw her opponent preparing that maneuver, and she countered it this way…" is boring, yes, but what about "If she did this maneuver, then she wouldn't be able to see her ally and whether he was in danger, so she had to do this other maneuver instead."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2014
  6. Amphetamine Stoat
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    Amphetamine Stoat New Member

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    That's actually pretty excellent advice.
     
  7. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Grimness it's safe to say my stuff is pretty grim and hopeless as fell. You could focus on the after math of the violence.
     
  8. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Anything by Edgar Allan Poe is a great example of grim hopelessness. Or Victor Conrad's Heart of Darkness
     
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  9. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of red death is one of the bleakest things I've read. Also the Raven was hopeless to.
     
  10. Amphetamine Stoat
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    Amphetamine Stoat New Member

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    Heh, I'm already a big Poe fan, and I've read Heart of Darkness.
    Heart of Darkness is a pretty good example of a story in which the plot moves but things are still kind of hopeless. I'll look at the structure there and try to analyze it.
     
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  11. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    There is a school of literary thought on storycraft that says the main character and protagonist are distinctly different identities. The protagonist is the one that drives the story and the mc is the character that changes.

    If you have a protagonist that simply doesn't give up and a main character that realizes it's hopeless, you have someone that drives the story and someone to give the revelation and turning points to.
     
  12. Amphetamine Stoat
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    Amphetamine Stoat New Member

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    Brilliant. You can probably tell I've not studied plot structure much. Thanks :)
     
  13. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    Plot structure can be a pain in the ass at times.
     
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  14. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    You never know what will win over readers. Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire" was morose but it became a hit in the horror category. I found it very intellectual with its creation of vampire psychology. The writing itself is extremely elegant.
     
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  15. novemberjuliet
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    novemberjuliet Member

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    Take away the protagonist's will. Meaning force them into a situation and incrementally tear down everything they're trying to accomplish, leaving just enough left over each time to keep the plot going. I think what creates hopelessness isn't destruction of the character but destruction of their purpose, beliefs and invalidating their efforts while leaving them no choice to simply quit.
     
  16. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    What keeps me going is curiosity about what happens next...

    Are they convinced that what they are doing will matter somehow? Like inspiring future generations.

    Perhaps the trying is what will earn them their afterlife reward.
     
  17. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    One thing I might suggest is thinking about strategic defeats. Instead of having the hero fail at everything, tether hope in front of them by giving them small victories and victories that lead to a larger dilemma, mixed in with failures or mistakes. You want to create an experience for your character which leads to them feeling hopeless or frustrated by the end.

    That doesn't mean they give up, but that they feel like they are going through a maze. In addition, you must reward your reader. Everything must lead to the reader's triumph. Something you might consider for this is a hero victory at the climax that results in the loss of everything else. Or you could create a climax scenario in which the hero realizes that they are not going to win. In exchange for this, your reader needs some recompense, like a strong theme that is present throughout and makes them understand why the hero cannot win.

    I suggest you read up on some tragedies. While their themes generally aren't defeat, you can create, say, an epic tragedy. Whatever you decide to do, you have to convince the reader by the end, that the hero's failure is the inevitable. Even if they want the protagonist to win, you have to convince them that loss is the appropriate ending.

    I think something like this requires a keen sense of timing though. If you look at how stories play out you'll always notice some major scenes of conflict. You have to choose the ones in which your hero must fail, and without the right balance, the reader won't believe the hope left in the story.

    Another approach you could take is to make the hero lose himself. If he starts turning against his original values in an attempt to reach his goal, he becomes a tragic character. This leaves you with an opportunity to create a turn in the story in which the character realizes his error, but is unable to correct as the damage is done. This works because of the tragic element. Give the hero a quest, create inner conflict, and make him lose himself to gain what he wants. Most readers wouldn't see that as victory, and it would make them hope your character loses, or realizes his error. If he does realize his error, you can strip his victory, or taint it with being only a partial one.

    One more approach is to make the quest the focus. Imagine if, by the end, Odysseus never made it home. Imagine if Frodo and Same never made it to Mount Doom. In both cases, the authors could string the characters on a tiresome, but enticing quest in which they begin to falter, then reach deperation, then realize they won't make it. Why I propose that this could work is that you can make the story all about the quest, all about the journey. Do it right and readers will, as mentioned above, understand that failure was the inevitable. Of course, in order for this to work, they need to be making some progress, they should be closer to their goal than when they started, but they should learn enough from the journey, that inevitable failure is all they're left with to hope for.

    Keep in mind, these are just ideas for how stories might play out, All are risky at some level and all have potential flaws. I don't think I did them much justice in my explanation, but I hope you get the ideas a little bit. Take what others have said and read up on literature with grimmer, defeated tones. Poe is good. I again recommend some tragedies. If one thing sums up my ideas, it would be that the key to the success of your story about failure lies in the characterization.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2014
  18. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Um, there's a ton of books about hopelessness? A good one is Mika Watari's Dark Angel (hard to find) about the fall of Constantinople .
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    There's a saying (sometimes applied—unkindly of course—to Scotland's football teams) : They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    It's an interesting way to approach your problem, not so much of hopelessness (which can be anything, well ...hopeless, miserable, yadda yadda) but the specific idea of a quest that is doomed to failure. @Andrae Smith mentioned the Frodo-Mount Doom scenario, which is actually a good one.
    Because, in a sense, Frodo DID fail in his quest. At the end, he weakened and elected to put on the ring and become its master after all. Only the intervention of Gollum saved the day.

    So taking that further ...what if? What if he had not destroyed the ring after all? That would have been his own weakness, causing defeat at the very moment of victory. This would be a great theme to explore. I don't mean re-write LOTR, but that kind of scenario. The reader is led to expect that, after all the adventures, the hero will be strong and triumph. But he doesn't.

    I think we all know people who behave this way. They get only so far, get almost to where success is guaranteed ...and they back off and either do nothing, or do something really REALLY stupid that causes the whole thing to fail. It's often called 'self-sabotage.' But anyone who consciously or unconsciously 'creates' failure like this can be an interesting case of 'hopelessness' to explore in a story. Especially a quest story.

    Many old stories in mythology carry the idea that the hero wins, but only at great cost to himself. He has to sacrifice himself, or do the one thing he was forbidden to do. He knows he will personally suffer the consequences, while the 'world' benefits from his unselfish action. In most of the great stories he DOES make this sacrifice, but you could turn that around. What if the hero chooses not to make the sacrifice? Or bungles the job?
     
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  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    A book in which the hero is hopeless throughout, and ultimately fails might be excellent, or end up as something people read, but don't enjoy. Also, unless there's a deep moral to it, it can feel like a waste of everybody's time, a sort of 'misery porn' where obstacles and disasters are gratuitous and there just for the sake of theme of hopelessness.

    Since you haven't written it yet, I hazard to guess that this story isn't based on some intense personal hopelessness or sense of defeat but rather an idea or an experiment.
    Later on, you describe your story as 'everything is hopeless'. This reminds me of Franz Kafka. Not only are the situations unbelievably depressing and always end badly for the protagonist, there's a sense of struggle, optimistic delusion, hope, strategy, the hero tries and is far from being hopeless and 'can't do anything right'. He might get overwhelmed by the sheer horribleness of other people, or institutions, but that's external circumstance not an inherent lack of capability. Also, there's a deep existential aspect to his writing (also check out Sartre), 'being and nothingness', that sort of thing.
     
  21. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @jazzabel, @jannert, you two women are geniuses...
     
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  22. Revilo87
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    You don't really need anything profound to say b/c life is nothing but a series of miserable obstacles getting in the way with no real point, case in point: every international conflict ever.

    A good series that already does what you're looking at doing is George R R Martin's "A song of Ice & Fire" series aka "Game of Thrones," even the tv show depicts what you want.

    Basically life is sh*t in Westeros, and it's never going to get better. Anyone and everyone who has a chance of making it better dies. Even when heroes come super close to achieving victory and cookies and rainbows for all, they either get squashed by the main bad guys, or sometimes even more maddeningly they're blindsided by some lesser villain for some other reason that has nothing to do with the main conflict. Oh and ontop of all that Ice Zombies are coming.
     
  23. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    WINTER IS COMING.
     
  24. Amphetamine Stoat
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    Amphetamine Stoat New Member

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    Haha, I'm a big fan of GRRM's work, which is probably partially where I got the idea to write such "misery porn."
     
  25. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    As said before, I'd give them a sense of hope, a reason to keep going despite the reality showing how futile their endeavor will be. Maybe small victories here and there, maybe throw in a good few heartwarming scenes, etc. You could even have a scene where the hero looks at a sunrise and talks about how s/he feels rejuvenated hope every time s/he sees this, etc.

    I'd be careful with it, though. As Jazzabel said, too much of it will make the book come off as (how do I PG this...) "beating off" to misery and death, which doesn't really entice a lot of readers. Look at Kafka and George R.R. Martin, look at Poe and other writers who pull this theme off so well that readers will keep coming back.
     

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