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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Know what burns me up?

   
Author Topic: Know what burns me up?
JBSkaggs
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Stories that have no endings or worse you read the whole dang thing and get to the end and find the crucial battle / confrontation/ etc to be a summary!

I am fuming. I find a great writer with a great style and a good hook- but then BAng the story dies with no resolution.

I then go and look at some of the magazines he had been published in and yes many of these stories irregardless of authors did not have endings.

So I wrote and asked a buddy in that field about this. He said it is very popular sci-fi gimmick to just stop a story. That the sci-fi folks are just happy as pink to have a generous helping of setting with no ending. One guy I spoke with said he canceled his sub to Analog for that reason.

Well Bah! Im sick of those. I get several a week with no ending, why would I want to publish a story with no ending? There will not be a sequal, no forthcoming novel.

Are writers afraid of a concrete resolved ending?

JBSkaggs


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HSO
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Perhaps you could email the author and ask for a rewritten ending? Just tell them you liked it, but the ending doesn't work for these reasons... Change the ending, we'll print it! That kind of thing.

Then again, perhaps you should not need to do that in the first place. But I leave that choice to you, sir.


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goatboy
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No, I think this is just a passing trend. A fashionable fad. (At least I hope it is.)

Once somebody sells the first one, a bunch of others will always magically appear.

For myself, I like a good ending, even if the resolution is "no resolution", I still like to see a "hook" at the end.


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TaShaJaRo
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I'm new to the short story field myself. I've only started reading them since joining this forum and I also have been frustrated by the endings, or lack thereof, of some of the stories I've read. I was beginning to think it was a "technique" with which I was unfamiliar. I personally do not like it but I'm wondering why this is becoming a trend? Do other people like filling in all the blanks? Is it just lazy authors and lazier publishers that allow this or is there something attractive about this "trend" that readers enjoy?
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HSO
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Yes, some readers do like to have an ending where things are ambiguous, leaving them to fill in the blanks. This is a valid ending technique. Many a great story and novel end this way.

Still, you can't help the way you feel. But you can always rewrite the ending to any story you've read to suit what you would want to see. And I think that's what authors are doing -- giving the reader the opportunity to fill in their own ending.

On a related note, TaSha, were you dissapointed with the ending in my short story, "Steel Love?" That is if you've read it yet of course.


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Jaina
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The ending to my story "Wendell" was awful because nothing happened, as nearly everybody who read my story pointed out to me. The thing is, I knew it, but I had to turn the story in (rough draft, so I could go back and fix it later) and I just didn't have time to make it interesting. It worked out well for me, because when I did go back and make the ending something more than summary, my teacher told me that I'd improved immensely and shot my grade up by about four points--just over the "A" mark.

But I hate endings that don't end. I hate reading them and I hate writing them. Every once in a while, I find one that I don't mind, but not often. I certainly hope it's a fad, because then it will end someday! Hopefully soon...


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Keeley
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The only short story I've liked that had an open end was "Calamity Warps" by Gene Wolfe.

At least, I think that was the name of the title. If not, I'll edit this later. No time right now.


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Isaiah13
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I've read a TON of short fiction over the course of the last year, and I have to agree,this happens all too frequently. It burns me up as well, especially if the story is good up until that point. It makes me wonder about the authors sometimes. Did they actually believe it was a good ending when they wrote it, or did they just wrap it up for the sake of wrapping it up?
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wbriggs
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When the author of a book refused to tell me what happened at the climax -- in summary, or otherwise -- that's the only time I remember throwing a book across the room.

Robert Sawyer, Flashforward.


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DatBum65
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Hi JB,

To answer your question: "Are writers afraid of a concrete resolved ending?" I certainly hope not, because there's really nothing more irritating than a missing/bad ending. Honestly, I don't know which is worse: missing or bad. I can deal with an open ending that leaves me thinking about how the situation might end, but I can't deal with a horribly bad ending that wraps up a very good story. I read to find out where the writer is taking me, not to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of a pile of...
Peace...


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TaShaJaRo
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HSO - I did read your story (I just have not finished critiquing it) and yes, I liked the ending. There was a bit of mystery but there was also resolution. I didn't feel like I was just left out to dry.

I guess I have a bit of MPD because what I read and appreciate as a writer is sometimes entirely different than what I appreciate as a reader. And yes, I can turn off one or the other depending on the quality of the work. As a writer, I enjoy any opportunity to use my imagination. As a reader, I want to be lazy and be told everything I need to know. That's part of the fun of reading. If I wanted to be in complete control and make it all up myself then I'd just write it myself. The fun part of reading is I'm NOT in control and I don't know what's going to happen and all I have to do is sit back and let someone serve it all to me on a silver platter. When they rip that platter away and tell me to go get it myself...well, I get a little miffed.


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keldon02
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JB, I have two theories about how this happens. The first is writers emulate someone they see is successful and the other is they spend too much time on the beginning and not enough on the ending.

I wonder if a lot of the Sci Fi folks aren't trying to emulate Heinlein's well known chaotic endings? I think they forget the only way he succeeded in adult fiction was he'd spent 30+ years accumulating loyal juvenille readers. Looking back on his stories I've been disappointed about how poor were the endings of everything after about 1965 but I kept reading the damned things because the beginnings were good and I kept thinking he couldn't schiz out yet another time.

The second theory is that I think that many novels originate as a few well-imagined scenes so the writers start out with a great mental picture of the opener but don't really know how to end them. Maybe it is deadlines and maybe just the process itself. It takes a pretty long time to allow a story to grow organically and produce its own good ending but most people don't seem patient enough to give their stories time to pull together.

Stephen King has written a lot about how he started off the Dark Tower Series not knowing how it would end and he had to struggle with a couple of pretty dull middle books before he got the inspiration again for the ending.

I've been lucky in my writing to try to have clear mental images of the endings before I start the stories. I think the key is to know where you're going then taking the time to figure out the pathway. If you do that things may start off slowly but they get better instead of worse.


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NewsBys
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Maybe these people are writing novels and just sending out pieces for publication in mags. Or maybe they are stopping at the word limit and just sending it as is.

If they are paying for stories with no ending, then I'm about to come into some serious money. $$$$$

Totally kidding there, I could never send out a story without some sort of ending. It would be like sending your kid to school with a "kick me" sign on his back.


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Elan
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I hadn't ever put too much thought into it before, but I hate short fiction and I never read it. Now, in following this discussion, I realize the reason...

Short fiction, to me, hasn't been worth the time it takes to read it because it's aimless, pointless, generally tries to create a cheap thrill, and leaves me feeling empty. Either I have to plug through something that doesn't engage me to arrive at a disappointing end, or I get caught up in it and it leaves me hanging, wanting to have more and there is no way to get it. The odd piece that feels satisfying when I put the book down is rare and not worth wading through mountains of drek to get to it.

IMHO.

I didn't realize this was a writing trend!

In my opinion, every story - long OR short - should have SOME sort of resolution. You can make it clear that the character's life goes on, but the mini-vignette should reach some type of conclusion.

Long ago, I had an epiphany - I realized that I am not going to live long enough to read all the books I would LIKE to read. When realization struck, I began to get more selective about what I read and quit slogging through books and stories that only barely engaged me. (It was the "eat what you put on your plate" mentality.)

If a writer isn't concerned about leaving the reader satisfied in some way, then he's writing solely for his own pleasure and shouldn't be surprised when a publisher chooses not to print his work.


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HSO
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You know, Elan, your opinion about short stories works equally well when applied to novels. Do you know how many novels I've read that left me feeling disappointed at the end? Lots.

I like short stories for what they are. I like novels for what they are. I judge each based on its merits and avoid or stop reading the ones I don't care about. What's the difference?

It's not the format, it's the reader's preference. Good stories are good regardless of length. And endings will always be a point of contention among individual readers. What works for one, doesn't work for another. This is why a writer must eventually decide to write what he/she wants to write. If you can't please yourself, then you shouldn't be writing at all.


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Survivor
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It depends on what you mean. In Combat I think I came pretty close to writing a story with no resolution. And the truth is that I just wrote up an X-Com tactical mission to have something to submit to my writing group that round. Is this the kind of thing we're talking about here? Because I like that story okay.
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JBSkaggs
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Actually that story is an example of what I mean. At least you finished the scene and concluded the battle.

Most stories don't go that far- they'll stop the story as she is about to jump off the ramp and expect the reader to make up the rest.

your story is what I would call a "slice of Life" and those are fine stories because you had a neat little package that either be the opening for a larger story or just a small snapshop "slice of life".

But when these writers expect the reader to finish it or they give some condensed ending like:

And they all drank the kool-aid and died.

Then I feel cheated.

JB Skaggs


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Rocklover
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But sometimes, guys, it's okay to not have an ending. Like if you're doing a "slice of life" format or a character sketch. And it is also more than okay to leave questions floating out there unresolved for the reader to ponder. That said, I do agree with you who feel there must be some answer given to the question posed or else the writer is cheating.
Take war stories. Often, the protagonist is faced with an unsolvable dilemma and makes a great sacrifice, and yet he/she gets killed or maimed or goes insane, and the war goes on. The sacrifice, no matter how noble, hasn't solved the conflict BUT it still can be a satisfactory ending because it does shows the way the character addresses the situation. It is enough that the character has overcome and made the effort, even in failure. In this case, the author still manages to make a point and the ending FEELS like a satisfactory resolution.
The point I'm trying to make with all this rambling, is that there are some cases where a 'no ending' works, but it needs to be carefully crafted and justified.
Judith

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Robyn_Hood
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I think one of the most popular non-ending stories is The Lady or the Tiger, by Frank Stockton. It is a great story that is intended to be open-ended and it works. I think there are a lot of autors out there that want to create that same sort of open-ending for their stories. Problem is, it is a difficult technique to pull off, so unless your name is Frank Stockton, perhaps you're best not attempting it.

Then there is the issue of the weak ending (I think someone already addressed this), where the author can't seem to find the right words so they just stop writing. This can be a challenge to get past (I'm in the middle of it myself right now).

I'm not sure what the cause is or what the solution could be, but I know for myself, I reached the end and that was it. The words came pretty easily for the whole story and then I reached the end. The story stopped and so did the words, so that is the ending that is currently attached to the story. It lacks panache, but it seems to be all my little brain can come up with -- even after 6 months or so!

I agree with whomever said that part of the problem could be that we do spend too much time working the opening, that endings are suffering as a result.


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wbriggs
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I wouldn't call "Lady and the Tiger" a story so much as a thought experiment, so I think that's why it works.

In other cases, I think the important issue IS resolved. For example, in those war stories, if the personal issue comes to an end, that's what feels important to me, not the war's end.

OTOH, if there's a story of taking a bridge, and they take it, but the hero loses use of his legs, we still have resolution -- this time, because the mission was completed. The injured soldier must recover, but that's another story. I think it just needs to be clear to the reader which story he's reading.

I also recall a story I read in college. College boy's home for the weekend. Hhe grew a beard; his parents are giving him grief; then he sunbathes in the backyard, nude, to further annoy them; they give him more grief.

Sunday morning, he shows up at breakfast, clean-shaven. Lots of cuts on his face -- he deliberately hurt himself in shaving it off. His parents see it and say nothing.

The resolution there is that there IS no resolution. We're no longer wondering if this twisted family is going to be untwisted -- it isn't.


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Survivor
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I think that the lady and the tiger story would have worked okay if I had actually cared either way. But I didn't. I mean, the way the situation is presented, I'm not even sure I would care if it were actually happening to me personally. I mean, I would care that it was happening, I just wouldn't care which door I opened.
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Rocklover
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Survivor. Let's see. Beautiful woman. Tiger who is going to tear you to bits. Beautiful woman. Tiger who is going to tear you to bits. Are you SURE that's a choice you would face with complete apathy?
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Survivor
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Is my favorite X-box game Halo or DOA: Extreme Volleyball?

Keep in mind, the only thing I actually know about this "beautiful woman" is that she's been hand selected by a guy that would just as soon see me get eaten by a tiger.


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JBSkaggs
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I've known some beautiful woman that I'd rather face a tiger than the woman.

Poison Dart frogs are beautiful too.

[This message has been edited by JBSkaggs (edited March 30, 2005).]


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goatboy
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The "Northern Pikes" (small rock group) had a hit single about ten years ago called: "She ain't pretty, she just looks that way."
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rjzeller
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er...back on the topic...

JB, I'm with you. I get very irritated with short stories lately becuase they simply seem to "stop" at some random point and that's it. And the most frustrating part is they generally stop just as the story is beginning to get interesting.

I think this happens with short stories more than anywhere else, and I think it happens for a couple reasons: 1) word limits, 2) publishing trends (one author does it and sells like crazy, so suddenly ALL authors think that will work for them as well), and 3) ego. Really, I think a lot of authors get a kick out of creating this huge setup then leaving the reader out in the cold in a sort of "Let's see if they can figure THIS one out" scenario.

I hate that. It's one thing to leave a couple threads open for future exploration, it's quite another to leave the entire story unfinished.

My 2 pennies. When I read something, I expect to see some sort of resolution.


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JBSkaggs
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I asked one writer to rewrite the ending and resubmit to my magazine. I was told the ending was fine, but that he would grudgingly re-evaluate the ending.

You know if I had an editor say hey I like your story and I'd publish it if you tweaked the ending, I would not try and justify my writing I would either say Thanks but no thanks and move to the next magazine or I'd try a rewrite and see if I liked it. But I would not argue with the guy whose is going to pay me for the thing.

Let me give a summary of this story:

In the future there are no seasons, no holidays. A man longs for a holiday. He gets a animated greeting card in the mail that has a cheerful sunrise. The man goes to work where he is downtrodden and depressed. He begins to think about change and the culture... then the story ends with the guy mailing himself more greeting cards.

2/3 of this story had a great orwellian setup I mean it pulled you in! You wanted to see what the man did... but then nothing.


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HSO
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When you were describing that story, JB, I was definitely thinking about Orwell, and then you said it. Indeed, that story could have a killer ending... perhaps the author felt a short story wasn't the right format for a revolution to occur or something major anyway. Oh, well. Point well taken. Better endings required...

Speaking of endings -- what is our collective opinion on ending on the climax or ending with a gentle summary/winding-down? Assume the ending is good, by the way. Do we want to see what happens after the bad guy(s) lose, or do we just the story to end with the protrag succeeding (or whatever).

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited April 03, 2005).]


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autumnmuse
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I think it depends on the genre and feel of the story. For short stories I almost always feel you should end with a bang, not a whimper. Novels may be slightly more giving. Personally I've always wished Jane Austen elaborated a bit more on her endings, but that is because I had fallen so much in love with her characters that I wanted to know more about their lives.

On the whole, though, once the central conflict has been resolved the story is over, and should end very soon. You can take a little time to tie up loose ends, but the longer the denoument the more it feels like the book should have been over by now. Some authors choose to end right after the climax but include a short epilogue that may take place at a different time, to show how everything else turned out.

If there is still a lot of ground to cover after the 'end' perhaps it is time for a sequel!

[This message has been edited by autumnmuse (edited April 03, 2005).]


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goatboy
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Hey, JB. I found this over on Strange Horizons. Is this the kind of story you're talking about?

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20050328/street-f.shtml


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Survivor
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Look, they reached the point where the story logically had to end. SPOILER 1's U >> 07 04 car badge can sue canteen keep going, right?

I thought it was quite a riot, actually.


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JBSkaggs
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Goatboy- yes. I read that story and went "What the-?" What was the point of it?

It also brought up another question to mind- many of these endings have murky meanings.

Am I suppossed to guess what happens or just feel muddled and confused?


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JBSkaggs
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Survivor- I have no idea what you just wrote.
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Jaina
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Yeah, that's the kind of story they were looking for in my creative writing class. Pointless drivel, in most cases. I hate writing that stuff almost as much as I hate reading it.
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Survivor
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Are you talking about that Strangehorizons story? Because that was a great story.

Just a hint, the story isn't about the stolen garbage cans. It's really about politics and government in general. It "doesn't end" in the same sense that 1984 "doesn't end", but that's one heck of an ending, don't you think?


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Jaina
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The Strange Horizons story isn't too bad compared to some of the stuff people were turning in to workshop in my class. And the teacher thought it was all profound and whatnot, while I was going "Um, hello, there is no ending here! There isn't even the understanding that there cannot be an ending."

Of course, this is from the same people who told me that there was no such thing as guidelines about how to submit a story to a publisher: "I've never heard of that. Your internet friends [meaning all of you on Hatrack] must not have ever actually published anything, because publishers don't care what your story looks like as long as it reads well." WHAT? So I don't put a whole lot of stock in what they say.


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JBSkaggs
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I would not compare the Strange Horizon's story to 1984. But as Christine says one person's trash is another's treasure.
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Survivor
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I'm not actually comparing the story itself to 1984. I'm just comparing the complaint that it has no ending to the same complaint leveled at 1984. I just picked 1984 because someone had already mentioned Orwell, and from a structurally thematic point of view the endings are similar.
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keldon02
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... Vonnegut comes to mind. He seems to like ending in the middle.
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MaryRobinette
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I'd have to agree with Survivor here. The story definitely has an ending and is not about garbage cans any more than it's about geranium leaf plates.

My father often has this complaint about stories and I think it is because he is interested in plot-driven stories. Plot-driven stories have very clear beginning, middle and ends while character- or idea-driven stories do not. I've been avoiding responding to this topic because I tend to like stories about which other people say, "It has no ending." While there are definitely stories in which nothing happens, I don't think that all the loose ends have to be wrapped up for a story to have a clear ending as long as there is a resolution to whatever the story is about. In the case in point, I don't care who took the garbage cans, because that's not what that story is about.


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