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February 22nd, 2006


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01:17 pm - Unresolved Resolutions in Fiction
This isn't going to be quite as broad a discussion as the subject line might suggest, but the topic has come into my path once more with the posting of my most recent fanfic piece.



Here's my central issue: people, particularly readers of fan fiction (though also others), seem to have what amounts to a fetish for neatly tied-up endings.

I'll go so far as to include myself in the list--part of the time. I like CSI, and a good detective story usually ties up at least a majority of the plot/character loose ends. That's the whole point; the uncovering of secrets and the piecing together of the puzzle.

But sometimes, there's a reason to leave something unanswered, unresolved, to not tied all your strings into neat little bows.

The Numb3rs episode "In Plain Sight," was one of these. The plot is tied up neatly, but Charlie's reaction to this type of case is not something that can be resolved in five minutes at the end. He gets a little bit of resolution (Charlie (bewildered): How you do guys deal with stuff like this? Megan: We did something good today.), but that's the extent of it.

In my ficlet, I gave him more of that emotional resolution, I gave him the necessary next step. At least one reader commented thanking me for doing so.

What gets me is that several others left comments asking when I'm going to continue the fic, that they think it should have been longer, that it's not finished. What they want is concrete resolution: they want Charlie to find out what happened to his childhood friend, the one he feels guilty for not "saving."

That wasn't the point of my story. Maybe Charlie won't ever find her, maybe he will...but my point was about Charlie realizing that his own journey and resolution can't depend on outside sources.

I gave it all the resolution it needs.

I've been writing stories like that for a long time. If the reason I'm writing it is fulfilled, then the story is complete. There's no need to continue it. I keep wondering why other people don't get that sort of story. I've got some other examples I could use, but at least one of them is an unpublished original story.

Any thoughts? Other opinions? Other examples?

Current Mood: annoyedannoyed

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Comments:


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From:kizmet_42
Date:February 22nd, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)
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I saw the movie Crash last weekend, which has a few major dangling plots at the end of the movie. According to the director, it was intentional. All of life's little threads don't knot up nicely on one day.
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From:whitemartyr
Date:February 22nd, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
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All of life's little threads don't knot up nicely on one day.

Right. If they do, that's called sitcom. :p
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From:izhilzha
Date:February 22nd, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC)
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Fantastic example! Crash is probably my favorite movie of the past year, because it just rings so true to life (while still, says the writer in me, being very artfully executed).
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From:rose_in_shadow
Date:February 22nd, 2006 11:44 pm (UTC)
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I have several short stories like that and I can't count how many times I've had to explain that the story IS finished.

I think part of it is that the concept of suspending the full resolution as opposed a nice and tidy epilogue or a last chapter that fulfills the same, is a Post-Modern convention that most people aren't used to.
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From:izhilzha
Date:February 22nd, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC)
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But I read mostly old books when I was a kid, and I was still writing this kind of stuff by the time I was 14.

I do think you're right on a lot of levels, though. Particularly in fandom, where often the reason for writing fic is to "fill in the blanks" or provide resolution where the show has declined to do so.
[User Picture]
From:jedibuttercup
Date:February 23rd, 2006 08:09 am (UTC)

Short Stories

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I've had this sort of response before; I'm famous for writing crossover stories of less than three thousand words, most of which encapsulate whatever idea I had at the time and are quite complete in themselves but don't take the characters to an "ending" place.

LJ's actually been pretty good to me about people appreciating that structure, though. It's The Pit of Voles that's the worst culprit for "what next" reviewers, for me. It seems like many of the readers have gotten used to the eternal-WIPs that spring up there like weeds that they assume any story is just Chapter One, regardless of any "the end" or "(fin)" placed at the end of it. I've had people review stories more than a year old that were only 800 words to start with, asking what happens next.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 23rd, 2006 12:35 am (UTC)
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I don't know where to begin to agree with you. :-) While I do take it as something of a compliment that readers want more, isn't there a showbiz cliche, "Always leave them wanting more"?

I wrote a short story for a creative writing class. Everyone seemed to love it. They were fascinated that people actually behave the way one of my characters did, and they were disturbed. I even had someone ask me if it was based on me (I assured the girl it was not, but told her it was based on behavior I've observed and heard about).

One of the two major criticisms, both of which went against the reason why I wrote it the way I did, was that the story was unresolved. This critique came from not only my fellow classmates, but also from the writing instructor. She explained that she was teaching us how to write in the format of popular, contemporary published work--basically, trying to teach us how to write a short story that a publisher would find suitable for publishing. And a non-resolution apparently wouldn't work. Still, since it was being graded as a work in progress, for the purposes of the class, it was acceptable.

To an extent, I understand her reasoning. But giving the story a nice, clean resolution negates the reason for writing the story in the first place, which was to get the reader to examine their own behavior in a given context, not to say that everyone lived happily ever after or that the tragic character died or whatever.

A few people have told me to leave the ending just as it is. These are (usually) people who tend to like things (movies, books, TV shows) that are off the beaten path, so to speak, or who read more than just on the surface, or who sometimes enjoy having the rug pulled out from under them story-wise. The folks who want an "ending" seem inordinately dissatisfied with the non-resolution.

I can't really explain the reaction of the average fic reader, though. ~pondering~ So I won't even try.

For what might very well be the crowning achievement in non-resolution, read Mark Twain's "A Medieval Romance." I performed it as an oral interpretation piece once, and drove the audience nuts. I even had people come up to me afterward and ask me how it ends. To which I replied (with a twinkle in my eye), "You heard the ending."

http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/1537/

Or this link (begin reading at the title of the story. The previous paragraph is from the end of the previous story):

http://mark-twain.classic-literature.co.uk/sketches-new-and-old/ebook-page-69.asp

V.


[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:February 23rd, 2006 12:53 am (UTC)
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*reads Mark Twain story*

ajfdlijsjdklsjlkdasjinksnkfj!

That's like trying to read an unfinished WIP over on fanfiction.net. Heh. I may have a high tolerance for that sort of thing, but... !
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:February 23rd, 2006 06:34 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I know what you mean. I've written stories which I thought were standalone, and have had people commenting asking when I was going to write the next part. Huh?

On the other hand, like, we're writing fanfic in the first place because we want more, don't we? And I myself have said to fanfic authors "please, can you write a sequel?" We want to know what happens next. And then what happens after that.

Though I think, in the case of the story you mention above (no, I didn't read it because I've never seen Numb3rs, so it would have been just confusing to me) it seems like part of the frustration is that they seem to have missed the point of the story. And that to have continued it in the way they wanted it continued would actually have undermined that point.
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From:izhilzha
Date:February 23rd, 2006 07:13 am (UTC)
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Yeah. I know, I've asked for sequels (though only occasionally); and I've been willing to write them myself, on occasion, though I have never yet managed to write a sequel on request (there's about 85 words of a TS one languishing somewhere on my hard drive).

I'm very curious if there'll be a different response when I finish and post the compainion piece to that story. It does take place shortly after the first story, and does in a sense continue it somewhat, but it's from Don's POV, not Charlie's, and there still isn't going to be concrete resolution...just a similar emotional resolution for Don.

Though I think, in the case of the story you mention above (no, I didn't read it because I've never seen Numb3rs, so it would have been just confusing to me) it seems like part of the frustration is that they seem to have missed the point of the story. And that to have continued it in the way they wanted it continued would actually have undermined that point.

Yep. I think that's probably exactly what it is. Which makes me wonder what they liked so much about the story (I've gotten a LOT of comments, compared to other stories in other fandoms I've written in), if they didn't get the point.... Either I failed quite spectacularly (in terms of getting across what I wanted to get across), or I'm just really darn good at the voices/interaction! Which I should take as a very solid compliment.

And I should go finish that companion piece. Heh.
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[User Picture]
From:lon_dubh
Date:February 23rd, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
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Wait? You mean you're supposed to tie up (or untangle, as the case may be) everything by the end of the story? Let me guess, they want happy endings too.

I rarely tie up every little plot point I put in a story, including major ones (and not just for the benefits of potential sequels), and I don't see a need to. And happy endings? A rare breed indeed in my writing. The real world doesn't end with a happy ending every time, why should it in a story? Do I have a resolution? Generally. Exceptions are some of my shorts, which are little more than snapshots of a much longer bunny. Occasionally, the only way to get the bunny off my back is to write a short of it. Then I can shelve the extended version for later. "End Game" is a prime example of this.

I like leaving things unresolved. And I like reading stories that do the same.
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From:izhilzha
Date:February 23rd, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
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LOL. Actually, I haven't been asked specifically for a "happy" ending, which is good. :-)

The real world doesn't end with a happy ending every time, why should it in a story?

Agreed. Ditto on resolving everything, in general. Life doesn't do that--and on a good show, with some realism, "life" doesn't do that either.

I think we're justified in writing these kinds of stories...even if some reader responses can be a bit frustrating.

BTW, what an awesome icon.
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From:trinityday
Date:February 23rd, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)
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My only thoughts are that I agree with you: not everything has to be tied up nicely. In fact, many genres, particularly when it comes to short fiction, work better when you're left guessing.

But then I realized, isn't that part of the reason we write fanfic? Because our fandom hasn't answered the questions that we wanted answered?
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:February 23rd, 2006 09:50 pm (UTC)
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But then I realized, isn't that part of the reason we write fanfic? Because our fandom hasn't answered the questions that we wanted answered?

Oh, definitely. Though I would emphasize that it's "part" of the reason we write fanfic. I know I like to read long, plotty stories...basically, just more adventures with the characters. Or short bits that give a different perspective on canon events, or, while giving us more of a resolution, also have a point of their own to make.
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From:jd3000
Date:February 23rd, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)
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In addition to all of that, fanfic gives some fans a vital feeling: It helps make the original work ours in some small way. Easier than dressing up in costume for a con. :-)

-JD

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