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  1. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Life is Dynamite Contributor

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    Pain and Suffering

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by J.T. Woody, Oct 7, 2020.

    I've noticed (not for the first time) that my short works almost always end in tragedy. There is always pain and suffering in them (emotional, mental... Never physical.... Yet?).

    Im challenging myself to write in a different genre then what i normally do, but all plots i draft tend to always fall back on "ends in death/suffering".
    The stories that dont end in death, end in the characters feeling lost (a woman finds a feral child and in the end, she doesnt know whats real anymore; a man is lost in the woods and ends with him laying down in a meadow telling himself he doesnt want to be found; a demon/monster has just slaughtered an entire army and holds his child in his arms questioning his own humanity/lack there of)

    My dad even asked me once "dont you ever just want to write something happy?"

    I cant do that. Not that i havent tried.... It just reads so forced and unrealistic to me. and the thing is, i read a variety of things and enjoy reading comedies/parodies and romances and other light hearted things.
    Im pretty sure if i hopped into writing a romance short story, it would probably be a romantic tragedy...

    Is this just my "voice" as a writer? Like Poe or Dickinson. You read a Stephen King book and you KNOW who you're reading....

    Can habits be broken?
     
  2. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    You may be giving yourself too hard a time when you think up happy endings. Happy endings are very often forced and unrealistic, but people like them anyway. You mentioned Stephen King. Look at his work. There's almost always a happy ending (with some very noteworthy exceptions,) and a lot of the time the characters get out of impossible situations through sheer will power. Belief makes magic and everyone survives. That's the end of like half of his books. It's ridiculous, but it works for millions of fans.

    And if not, so what? The world needs Poes too. Just don't take up his drinking habit.
     
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  3. Malisky

    Malisky Fortune cookie Contributor

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    Oh, I have no problem with this. I love fractured characters, although I seek some sort of redemption in the end preferably. This doesn't always mean a happy ending, but satisfying the least.
    I don't really see a problem in this. Watch some Bela Tarr. He's a master at that.

    I'm sure that if you wanted to write "happy" or at least "happier" as in a lighter version of a story you could. Perhaps it's a matter of preference? Perception? You love destruction? Total annihilation? Not bad.
     
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  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    This is gonna be an odd choice, but the Harry Potter saga.
    It sets up things, and then gets darker and darker with each
    book of the series. And in the last book Harry Potter dies,
    gets McGuffined back to life, defeats his mortal enemy,
    and then lives sappily ever after and gets the girl. Think
    of that example as the best of both worlds: The Tragic, and
    The Happy.
    So, it is possible to make dark and tragic happy.

    To break things down a bit, it could fall down to catharsis,
    and what you want to get out each story. Be it contentment,
    sadness, etc.

    Nothing wrong in writing heavier darker stories.
    Nothing wrong on challenging yourself to write outside of them either. :)
     
  5. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 12/210 MP: 0/130 Supporter Contributor

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    The question is - do you WANT to write a happy ending? If you don't that's absolutely fine, not everyone does.

    If you do, look at your stories. Any plotline could be reworked to have a happy, or an upbeat ending with a little modification.

    Yes, it sounds corny but maybe your demon that's just slaughtered the army starts to realise his humanity because of the child. Or even cornier, the child is the "chosen one" who will end his reign of terror. I mean, even A Tale of Two Cities, which ends with the main character having his head cut off, is a sort of happy ending.
     
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  6. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Readers need a character to root for. With my short stories, I like to offer a sliver of a chance that things would work out, but it's not likely. The trick to this is to end the story before the tragic ending, but have the tragic ending implied. Even if your characters are caught in a downward spiral, there has to be some chance of breaking free. I'm not saying to put them in better situations, but maybe think about where you are ending your short stories. Ending them sooner could have a bigger impact and add a lingering layer of complexity.
     
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  7. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    It sounds like you have the beginnings and middles of stories but are falling short when it comes to the endings. Stories often involve problems that are eventually overcome. A mad scientist is intent on destroying the world but his plan is thwarted by the plucky hero. Two people fall in love and are kept apart by circumstances. Eventually, they overcome the obstacles so they can be together. The detective must solve the murder or the killer will strike again. Without the endings, we're left with disaster and despair. The mad scientist destroys the world. The lovers never see each other again. Everybody dies. You could try planning your stories in reverse. Start with the ending. Think of a way in which the characters can 'pull the rabbit out of the hat', and then work backward from there.
     
  8. Zeppo595

    Zeppo595 Contributor Contributor

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    To be fair, it doesn't actually sound like that.

    It sounds more like your worldview is negative/pessimistic and that's why it inevitably finds it's way into your stories.

    Lots of stories are about overcoming problems but all stories are actually about change. Heroes overcoming obstacles is a positive change but it is just as compelling to read downward spiral story arcs as long as you show us this internal change in your characters in a satisfying way.

    Lots of people will say stuff like 'you will never sell your story unless your characters overcome their problems.' Well, two of the most popular movies of 2019 'Joker' and 'Parasite' had very much depressing endings.

    It's true for the dynamics of your story to work you need to at least present the possibility of the worst case downer ending not happening to give it some weight. Just like in a traditional 'hero's journey' we must show at least the possibility of the hero actually not making it. Darth Vader tempting Luke etc... If you show that your character COULD have gotten out of their situation, it will make the fact they didn't all the more powerful. Just as in an 'upbeat' ending the relief that something terrible didn't happen can only come after us being shown that it might.

    Lots of great writers routinely wrote grizzly ending stores. Roald Dahl being one of the most infamous.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
  9. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    Judging by J. T. Woody's other posts, I don't think she's suffering from a negative/pessimistic worldview, and I would be wary of accusing members here of having particular personal qualities.

    I agree it is entirely possible to write a good story with a depressing ending but if you're not going to tick the 'resolve the issue' box, nor the 'happy ending' box, you're going to have to tick some other box in a really big way to make up for it.

    If you're discovery writing and you include something in your story which causes suffering, it's easy to let that develop and take over. For the characters to resolve that issue, they would not 'go with the flow' but rather act in a way which is 'against the grain'. They would have to force something to happen which would not naturally occur. This may seem unnatural in that context but the tick is to make it seem plausible. Changing the problem to match the solution is always an option. That's where planning the ending first comes in.
     
  10. Malum

    Malum Offline

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    Dostoevsky novels usually had some form of hope interwoven in their endings. Aside from maybe Devils. The majority of his characters were either going through mental torture/abnormality yet they were humanised in a way that made you root for them no matter how messed up they were. I think a detached narrative and a sort of empathy towards the characters' suffering/situation helps. Maybe illustrating a greater level of villainy/pain like the characterisation of Svidrigailov in Crime & Punishment can make make depressing works convey more optimism. My thoughts are kind of scattered here but I suppose what I'm saying is that there are levels to suffering...
     
  11. Zeppo595

    Zeppo595 Contributor Contributor

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    I thought it was a fair deduction to make considering they've made this thread here and have said any ending other than death/extreme psychological anguish is 'forced and unrealistic.' If you think happy endings are unrealistic, I think that does imply that your worldview is more pessimistic and you have a certain amount of artistic integrity to even care.

    I think the 'box' that is usually ticked with these types of stories is compelling characters. I think there is a kind of sick thrill in seeing a character go down to the 'dark side' because it's the reverse of all our aspirations. There are lots of movies like this actually, Leaving Las Vegas, The Godfather and more. The trick is to show the steps in the downward spiral. If you just have a miserable MC in paragraph one is is just as miserable at the end, we haven't been anywhere. We still want to go on a journey with characters, even unpleasant ones.
     
  12. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    This thread is about how not to end up with a depressing ending when one was not originally intended.

    Having compelling characters is certainly an important box to tick as well as having changes in those characters. But there are many stories where the characters don't change. For a reader to like your work, they need a reason to like it so at least one 'box' needs to be ticked for them. If they don't like your work, they may identify several 'boxes' which weren't ticked. Will the positives outweigh the negatives? That depends on how many boxes you tick and how decisively you tick them. Sacrificing some boxes for the sake of others is a judgement call you make as a writer.

    If you want to have a positive ending but the best you can come up with seems forced and unrealistic, it would only do so in the context that you made in the beginning and middle of the story. This is the time for some drastic editing to 'set up' the ending. Like a plot-twist, the reader needs to react, 'yes, of course, why didn't I see that coming?' rather than, 'where the hell did that come from?'
     
  13. Zeppo595

    Zeppo595 Contributor Contributor

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    There aren't. Stories are all about change. A character who is down going further in that direction is still changing, albeit for the worse.
     
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  14. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Life is Dynamite Contributor

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    I just got done with a virtual meeting for work sharing the books we've read and its got me thinking about the book One Day In The Live of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
    From what I remember, it (as the title says) takes place in the span of a day. Ivan is an inmate in a Siberia. Its not a "happy" story, but its not a "sad" one either. He lives in pretty terrible conditions. people around him are getting sick or starving. its basically a do what you can to survive kind of environment, and Ivan is surviving as best he can. At the end, he counts his blessings... he didnt get sick, he's alive, he got paid, he was fed. The end.
    I guess thats as positive as it gets. He never gets out, he doesn't die (that day), but at least he got a meal.
    (I think that goes with Parasite as well... it ended pretty bleakly, but there were some positives... the son held on to hope)

    I feel like that is where my writing is. there are little positive things... like one of my shorts that will be published this month, even though everyone dies in the end, the MC realizes just before he dies that he has his family around him and he wont be dying alone. Positive sentiment, but they still die in the end.

    To Aled and Zeppo's comments about my mental state... from my writing, it would appear that I struggle with depression or a negative outlook... idk, maybe I do -shrugs- I've never been evaluated (though it DOES run in my family), but I feel like I'm a pretty happy, bubbly person with bouts of pessimism every now and then. I'm not the most optimistic person in my family, but I would say I'm the "realist" of my family. And realistically... I've come to certain conclusions in my short years that make writing happier things kind of a challenge.

    With the example (One Day In The Life..., and Parasite)... there are no sliver of chances. You pretty much know from the beginning that this is going to end badly (Parasite), and this is just it (One Day in the Life), but it doesnt diminish the story. to Zeppo, there are little positive changes in both... like outlooks on life, but thats the extent of it.

    Are these things enough? Would readers get bored and want something with a clearly happy ending?
     
  15. Zeppo595

    Zeppo595 Contributor Contributor

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    I think that ending of Parasite shows one way to deal with an ending is to have something more complex than just 'happy' or 'sad.' An ending can be happy in a character's eyes that is depressing for the audience because we can see them deluding themselves. That's true in Parasite and other movies I've seen - Sunset Blvd being one. Having a character who is not truthful with themselves can be a great way to have a more nuanced ending.

    Actually, the first half of Parasite had everything pretty much go as the family wanted. They executed a number of plans successfully and were on the up for a good chunk of the movie. We - the audience - knew it wouldn't last forever but what keeps us hanging on? The how. How are they going to fall ? And the writers of the screenplay subverted our expectations there.

    It's okay for us to know pretty much the entire time that it will end badly because we're still interested to know how and if it's what we expect or something far more shocking. Using a twist where things are MUCH worse than we think can be great. Parasite did that expertly. The tone shifted from comic to insanely dark with that half way twist.

    I know I suggested you might have a pessimistic worldview but I didn't mean it like that's the ONLY worldview you have. I think every human being has a bit of both in them and that's exactly why both types of endings can be very effective with audiences.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2020
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  16. DriedPen

    DriedPen Member

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    Not to depress anyone, but my life has seemed to follow my writing!

    18 years ago I started a story I conjured up a novel that involved a couple separating over the loss of their twins in a house fire. There was other elements that made it write-worthy than just that, but then, 18 years later I find myself divorced twice, and having experienced the death of an infant. I am not saying I am cursed...but it does make me wonder! :)
     
  17. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    There is a big difference between a story which is about a character who descends into some psychological dark place and a story where the characters suffer some misfortune at the end. If you're not going to leave the reader with a smile on their face, you would need to leave them with a message concerning some significant issue which you could only convey with the sad ending. Romeo and Juliet springs to mind.
     

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