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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-07-10 06:25
Subject: [process] Plot dynamics 101
Security: Public
Tags:books, process, stories, writing
I was chatting yesterday about the oddities of story telling, and made the observation that in sfnal short fiction, there is a tension between giving the reader enough information that ending will ring true, and not giving them so much information that the ending will be all too obvious in advance. One very solid way to handle this is to feed them a slightly more obvious yet false ending, so when the true reveal occurs, they can do a metaphorical slap on the forehead and say, "oh, yes, that was it!"

This is essentially true of mystery as well, since like much of SF mystery relies on hidden information being disclosed or discovered prior to the end of the narrative. It's more troublesome in the higher ends of fantasy, where the reveal is a lot less essential to the success of the story. On the other hand, high fantasy short fiction doesn't seem to be as common as contemporary fantasy short fiction or SF short fiction. Romance, where (at least classically speaking) the endings are comfortable inevitable, uses a different dynamic altogether.

When one switches to novels, or even novellas, I think this changes as well, simply because the sharp gain in complexity of the plot and the narrative as a whole.

Bonus question: Why do we link high fantasy and contemporary fantasy in our labelling?
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User: tsheehan
Date: 2007-07-10 13:48 (UTC)
Subject: Gah!
I tried to answer the bonus question and my brain exploded.
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User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-07-10 13:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Why do we link high fantasy and contemporary fantasy in our labeling?

What do you mean by "link?"

I swear, I'm going to write the world's first 'low' fantasy. It's going to be about peasants bearing fardels to the evil baron's grotto of evil, and being eaten by a grue along the way...

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russ: watchmen
User: goulo
Date: 2007-07-10 14:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your first paragraph sounds like you're talking about mystery, not SF, to me. I don't see that forehead slap as being anywhere near as integral to SF as to mystery, except maybe certain hard sf stories that depend on a clever tech idea at the end. To the extent that it appears in SF generally, it seems to appear in all fiction generally.
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Jeremy Tolbert
User: the_flea_king
Date: 2007-07-10 14:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think that's a standard plotting trick and not tied to any particular genre.
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scarlettina: Writing
User: scarlettina
Date: 2007-07-10 15:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-07-10 14:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Because we tend to categorize fiction on the basis of the tropes it uses, not on the basis of its plot structure. And that's because we are science fiction readers, SF being the genre that is characterized by its tropes because it has no formulaic plot structure. - Cheryl
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Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.: writing
User: slithytove
Date: 2007-07-10 15:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Why do we link high fantasy and contemporary fantasy in our labelling?

Because either of them may have ghosts, but neither is likely to have railguns.
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User: manmela
Date: 2007-07-10 16:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You see this is where I go wrong. I (try to) write contemporary fantasy and the story I've been working on for the last month or so does have a Mana Weapon that can out-blast a railgun
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User: manmela
Date: 2007-07-10 16:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I generally hate short stories with a twist in the tale. Most of those plots have been done to death.

My writer's circle generally love writing these shorts of plots, and get really annoyed when I ask questions such as "yeah, the twist was great, but you don't explain how they got in through a locked door with no key".

In writing some short fiction recently, I've tried to avoid the 'Twist in the Tale' and instead tell a mini story, a bit like how the James Bond movies have a mini story before the titles and the main story gets going. It's still hard going (and taking me an age to finish) but I'm feeling a lot happier writing those sorts of short stories.

I suppose the thing with a lot of high fantasy is that it follows the 'Quest plot' and so therefore sets things up pretty much from the outset. Joseph Campbell has a lot to answer for ;-)

But at the same time, I always worry when people start to label things. You know it is possible to have a fantasy world where the events of the story change the world forever instead of changing it back to normal.

This is why I've probably not been published yet - because I see these traditions, roll up my sleeves and say "right, let's break that one!". Well that and the fact my writing sucks!
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User: magi23
Date: 2007-07-10 17:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Bonus question: Why do we link high fantasy and contemporary fantasy in our labeling?

Personally I blame T$R. Seriously here is my pet theory. Back in the day, right after the printing press was invented the only contemporary fiction being massed produced were the penny dreadfuls. The first piece of fiction work to really seep into the social conciseness and have literary value was Lord of the Rings, which is undoubtedly high fantasy. Popular contemporary fantasy, not on the penny dreadful level, is a fairly modern thing, in the last 50 or so years. While those who read, a lot, grasp the differences almost instinctively, the mass consciousness still equates all fantasy with Lord of the Rings/high fantasy. And D&D didn't help either.

But that's just my idea...I could be wrong. :D
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Mister Eclectic
User: howeird
Date: 2007-07-10 18:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think there is any difference between SF and mundane fiction in the challenges around telegraphing the ending. What sets SF apart is the trend (started by Asimov, methinks) to make the ending hinge on technology. As opposed to the Verne/Wells/Orwell/Niven mode where you establish the parameters of the speculative technology right up front, and then treat the story the same way as any other story, within those parameters.

bonus question
What you mean "we", kemo sabee? :-)
But seriously, the mundanes who run the publishing distribution world lumped all the geeks together. And for the most part, both genres require the reader to temporarily accept a world which doesn't exist, while all other fiction is modeled on people, events and situations which require little or no imagination on the part of the reader.

Bonus bonus question: Why do fantasy filkers write epic songs without a bridge, while sci-fi filkers follow standard pop formats?
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User: ext_54717
Date: 2007-07-11 19:24 (UTC)
Subject: The "reveal"
I like the idea of a “reveal.” It’s like a sleight of hand magic trick. It works through misdirection. You make the audience think the coin is in one hand, when it’s really somewhere else. Now you can make it disappear, and if you like, reveal it coming from somewhere unexpected.

I wrote about this post on my blogsite impulsejournal.wordpress.com.
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