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extrinsic
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I'm wondering if anyone knows of a published narrative--short story, novel, any long or short dramatic form--that lacks for a want or problem wanting satisfaction; in other words, a dramatic complication. I'm widely read and though some narratives have resisted my decoding from them a central dramatic complication, I've yet to find one enitirely lacking one. Though, of course, I haven't read everything yet in this lifetime.

Similarly, say a narrative could entirely do without a dramatic complication, what might you project as an appealing center of such a narrative?

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RyanB
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I never could read a whole volume but it seems about half the stories in any given Best American Short Stories anthology will fit your bill.

If you want a specific example, I would suggest the 2007 story from Munro.

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wetwilly
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Really? I've found a lot of really solid stories in Best American Short Stories.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by RyanB:
I never could read a whole volume but it seems about half the stories in any given Best American Short Stories anthology will fit your bill.

If you want a specific example, I would suggest the 2007 story from Munro.

If you mean "Dimension" by Canadian writer Alice Munro, first published in The New Yorker 5 June 2006, then no, that doesn't suit my bill. The story is most definitely not the conventional story of resolution, according to Damon Knight's vernacular. It is both a story of "epiphanic" revelation and decision, though, with their complication convention wants and problems and, hence, structure. Actually, "Dimension" is a bildungsroman, or maturation novel: novel in the traditional sense of fiction not per se book-length fiction.
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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
I'm wondering if anyone knows of a published narrative--short story, novel, any long or short dramatic form--that lacks for a want or problem wanting satisfaction; in other words, a dramatic complication. I'm widely read and though some narratives have resisted my decoding from them a central dramatic complication, I've yet to find one enitirely lacking one. Though, of course, I haven't read everything yet in this lifetime.

Similarly, say a narrative could entirely do without a dramatic complication, what might you project as an appealing center of such a narrative?

Are you talking about something to create tension, that the hero has to do--make right--stop? Or a certain type of tension? Or am I not understanding you?
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extrinsic
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I mean only where a protagonist has no want or problem to satisfy. Though, yes, something else, some other feature that develops tension's perhaps empathy and suspense or curiosity.
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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
quote:
Originally posted by RyanB:
I never could read a whole volume but it seems about half the stories in any given Best American Short Stories anthology will fit your bill.

If you want a specific example, I would suggest the 2007 story from Munro.

If you mean "Dimension" by Canadian writer Alice Munro, first published in The New Yorker 5 June 2006, then no, that doesn't suit my bill. The story is most definitely not the conventional story of resolution, according to Damon Knight's vernacular. It is both a story of "epiphanic" revelation and decision, though, with their complication convention wants and problems and, hence, structure. Actually, "Dimension" is a bildungsroman, or maturation novel: novel in the traditional sense of fiction not per se book-length fiction.
No, that's not it. And now I can't find the one I'm talking about. I thought I had only read 2003 and 2007, but it's neither of those.

The one I'm talking about is the semi-autobiographical story she wrote about her aunt.

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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by wetwilly:
Really? I've found a lot of really solid stories in Best American Short Stories.

There are some really good stories in BASS. But there's some drivel too.

From my small sample, I found about half the stories had a plot and half of them didn't.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by RyanB:
No, that's not it. And now I can't find the one I'm talking about. I thought I had only read 2003 and 2007, but it's neither of those.

The one I'm talking about is the semi-autobiographical story she wrote about her aunt.

Munro in Best American Short Stories (18)

"Spelling" 1979
"Wood" 1981
"Monsieur Les Deux Chapeaux" 1986
"Circle Of Prayer" 1987
"Meneseteung" 1989
"Differently" 1990
"Wigtime" 1990
"A Friend of My Youth" 1991
"Carried Away" 1992
"A Real Life"" 1993
"Save the Reaper" 1999
"Post and Beam" 2001
"Family Furnishings" 2002
"Runaway" 2004
"Silence" 2005
The View from Castle Rock" 2006
"Dimension" 2007
"Child's Play" 2008

I can certainly understand Alice Munro's writing is not for everyone. She's been labeled the Canadian William Faulkner for her rustic, rural, gothic characters, settings, and dramatic complications, also emulating the picaresque method of Faulkner's. Picaresque: episopidic adventures of a roguish protagonist, sometimes with a nonlinear timeline. Munro's also been fondly lableled the Canadian Chekhov. Her narrators' voices tend toward remote, open narrative distance, emulating Anton Chekhov's verfremdungseffekt, or distancing effect. And like contemporary Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, Munro writes in a distinctly Canadian manner of victimism. U.S. readers, and writing, tend toward individualism more so. Victimism doesn't rest as well in U.S. culture-social values. Though a few U.S. writers with global appeal also might be labeled victimism writers.

Munro may be a tough pill to swallow for a few readers, but I don't see a lack of want or problem satisfaction dramatic complication in her writing.

[ July 30, 2013, 01:50 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RyanB
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Apparently my library has the 2002 edition rather than 2003. "Family Furnishings" it is.

http://www.freewebs.com/thinkersnyc/reading04_04.html

And it was Alice's second cousin, not her aunt (an important tidbit now that I remember).

I suppose it has a problem (or a mystery) if you read it backwards. Not so going forward. And everything in the middle is unrelated to the problem.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
The story is most definitely not the conventional story of resolution, according to Damon Knight's vernacular. It is both a story of "epiphanic" revelation and decision, though, with their complication convention wants and problems and, hence, structure. Actually, "Dimension" is a bildungsroman, or maturation novel: novel in the traditional sense of fiction not per se book-length fiction.

What might be helpful, extrinsic, is a topic discussing some of the kinds of stories other than the conventional story of resolution.

While not particularly helpful to this question, it may be of use to Hatrack participants to learn of other ways to structure stories.

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Reziac
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On partial skim (this sort of thing bores me), I'd say the story's problem/conflict belongs to the parents, who are being put in a corner by Alfrida's behavior.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
The story is most definitely not the conventional story of resolution, according to Damon Knight's vernacular. It is both a story of "epiphanic" revelation and decision, though, with their complication convention wants and problems and, hence, structure. Actually, "Dimension" is a bildungsroman, or maturation novel: novel in the traditional sense of fiction not per se book-length fiction.

What might be helpful, extrinsic, is a topic discussing some of the kinds of stories other than the conventional story of resolution.

While not particularly helpful to this question, it may be of use to Hatrack participants to learn of other ways to structure stories.

I do think that "other ways to structure stories" is germane to the question. That is an idea worth pursuing when I have time. Today and for the rest of the week, I have monumental editing deadlines due. Three book editing projects almost done and a flurry of shorter manuscripts. I've been pleasantly overwhelmed with editing work since I put up my shingle. With a full queue, I have had to turn down several promising projects as well.

[ July 29, 2013, 06:34 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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That's great, extrinsic. Thanks for finding time to help us here as well.

I'll have to think about it, but I may try starting such a topic, and see if among us we can think of some other ways.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by RyanB:
Apparently my library has the 2002 edition rather than 2003. "Family Furnishings" it is.

http://www.freewebs.com/thinkersnyc/reading04_04.html

And it was Alice's second cousin, not her aunt (an important tidbit now that I remember).

I suppose it has a problem (or a mystery) if you read it backwards. Not so going forward. And everything in the middle is unrelated to the problem.

I've read "Family Furnishings." The story is about family anecdotes, or family furnishings, family stories furnished to the narrator and furnished with elaborations with personal embellishments, perceived and portrayed differently by family insiders and differently by Alfrida.

The narrator aligns as an adult with Alfrida's views, which is the problem and want overall of this story of revelation. The narrator wants to perceive purely and the problem is others perceive differently. The narrator "epiphanically" discovers that her family's recollections and embellishments of the often-repeated and changing--moving furniture--family stories are biased, that adults spin circumstances to their purposes, including Alfrida. This is a maturation story of revelation and decision.

[ July 29, 2013, 09:55 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RyanB
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You told me what it's about, but you didn't identify a problem or want.

The revelation is that Alfrida and Alice's father had a child, a revelation that comes out of the blue at the end (the beginning doesn't make a lick of sense until you read the ending). One could make all sorts of inferences about what Alice or Alfrida or the dad wants or doesn't want. People want things.

But in the end it's a bunch of "happenings" dealing with a family out of which you could draw many conclusions.

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Denevius
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It sounds like you're looking for something that's post modern, probably experimental literature.

The problem with your question, as I see it, is that a "want or problem" is subjective. As a reader, you can always read some type of motivation into character, or some type of problem into narrative.

I think it's impossible for a human to write a story in which no wants or problems arises. They can try, they can obfuscate these traits in the prose, they can make it so dense or so shallow that the traits you don't want are hard to find; but I think it's *always* going to be there, or always can be read into by a reader looking for it.

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extrinsic
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While I understand in a present-day setting that a scandalous incestuous implication might be taken from Alice Munro's "Family Furnishings," I don't see it in the story. Alfrida's daughter, the woman at the funeral, was conceived and born out of wedlock, scandal enough for the setting's time.

As I wrote above, "The narrator wants to perceive purely and the problem is others perceive differently."

Every modular episode, albeit chronologically nonlinear, ties into that want of the narrator to perceive events and persons purely and everyone, including the narrator, puts their own spin on others and events, contending with and complicating her want to perceive purely. That is intangibly at the center of the story' structure. Not much of a tangible dramatic complication is directly given in the story, though. However, simply put, it is the want to be an adult and a successful writer.

The story portrays a writer's dawning independent perceptions, epiphanies, from when the narrator was young and only knew the versions of stories her immediate family told, until she had a first dawning idea that more than one percpetion existed during the "ciggie-boo" scene with her parents and Alfrida. For the first time, the narrator openly smokes a cigarette in front of her parents, and while it was joked about, it otherwise passes unremarked as inappropriate, signaling a rite of passage into a first adult responsibilty and privilege.

Each episode portrays a family story spun as however whoever the teller desires. The narrator aligns herself with Alfrida because Alfrida's cosmopolitan views and lifestyle appeal to the country girl. The narrator also puts her own spin on persons and events. Who later comes to see that Alfrida's not so worldly as she had first thought when she was younger. Is growing up and seeing the blinders fall away not the organizing principle of this story's chronologically nonlinear structure? What then is the present time moment of the story? Perhaps some time soon after the funeral.

Though the "Family Furnishings" shape is "The Specimen" in Jerome Sterne's Making Shapely Fiction vernacular, Alfrida is the narrator's focal specimen, the story is about the young woman narrator's coping with and growing beyond the "Family Furnishings" she grew up with.

By the way, Alice Munro said about "Family Furnishings" in a December 2001 interview by Cara Feinberg in Atlantic Monthly "No--None of that happened" (Feinberg question answer 6).

The Atlantic Monthly Feinberg-Munro Interview

[ August 09, 2013, 05:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
It sounds like you're looking for something that's post modern, probably experimental literature.

The problem with your question, as I see it, is that a "want or problem" is subjective. As a reader, you can always read some type of motivation into character, or some type of problem into narrative.

I think it's impossible for a human to write a story in which no wants or problems arises. They can try, they can obfuscate these traits in the prose, they can make it so dense or so shallow that the traits you don't want are hard to find; but I think it's *always* going to be there, or always can be read into by a reader looking for it.

Postmodernism has been around now for sixty or more years. I don't see it as per se experimental anymore. In some ways, I feel Postmodernism has passed its prime, partly because Postmodernism's core convention of challenging and questioning presupposed notions of propriety has done so without providing satisfying satisfactions. Maybe in the sciences, but not so much in the arts. Self-aware art that challenges warranted social taboos for the sake of shock offends rather than inspires, though there's an audience for it, so . . .

Reading a want or problem into a narrative may pass scrutiny privately, everyone is entitled and true to their private perceptions. However, a few supporting points of evidence have to be given in order to pass public muster.

Whether a story must have a dramatic complication's want and problem remains to be seen. Maybe not in my lifetime, maybe never, but theoretically it can be done in an accessible and appealing way or many ways. I don't know. That's why I posed the question, to see if anyone had an insight into possibilities for exploration. Part of where I've progressed, though, is in how anecdotes, vignettes, and sketches may not have or need dramatic complications and yet still be appealing and entertaining.

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RyanB
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The "end of WW1" story is not just a difference of perception. Memories change, but they don't change from being a child playing in the field to being a teenager walking home from high school (teenagers don't play in the field) . . . not for a "where were you when WW1 ended" event. The narrator has those same thoughts.

The father's version implies a cover-up.

I sort of understand the appeal of stories like these. You can chew on them. You can draw different things out of them. They make you feel intellectual.

They bore me to tears.

There are many different wants and/or problems you could point to in the story. At the smoking scene the narrator wants to feel grown-up. But that's not what the story is about.

I had assumed when you said you were looking for stories without want or problem you meant where a want or problem is not clearly central to the plot, it's not driving the story forward.

If you mean a story where no problem/want exists at all, no matter how incidental ... that's a different question.

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Denevius
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In the terms you're stating it, I still think it's a bit too subjective. Or perhaps I simply don't understand what you're getting at.

But when I think of some of the worst workshop fiction I've read, one of the main problems (and one of the main criticisms) is that the character doesn't seem to want anything. However, this wording isn't accurate.

It's not that the character doesn't want anything; it's that the character doesn't want anything *compelling* to the reader.

One of the worst books I've ever been forced to read is "Pride and Prejudice". It's been a while since I studied it back in university, but I would say that this book by Jane Austen is about absolutely nothing. And that her central character, Elizabeth Bennet, wants nothing. But if you've ever taken a course where the book is discussed, you learn that's not true.

What is true is that *what* the main character wants is completely boring.

Elizabeth wants something, but if that character existed in real life and expressed them to you, you'd probably just shrug your shoulders and say, "Yeah, but who cares?"

Again, I guess it's a funny phrasing, but I believe that, as humans, we can't write stories with characters that are completely devoid of 'wants'. We *can* do desires/motivations badly, and that's usually when in workshop you get asked, "Yeah, but what does this character want?" But they always desire *something*, even if it's just to get breakfast, or turn on the television.

In my mind, a character that "wants nothing" is one that's achieved some type of metaphysical zen. They're just drifting through a white void that they never interact with, and that never interacts with them. And I'm pretty sure no "published story" exists like that.

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RyanB
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I didn't have to read Pride and Prejudice. We read Wuthering Heights in high school english. It definitely had a plot, though I could see how one might not care about the star-crossed lovers the plot revolves around.

Let me use Life of Pi to explain. The narrator talks about zoos and swimming pools for quite a while in the beginning. And then there's a shipwreck and you have a boy lost at sea on a boat with a tiger.

The "zoo and swimming pool" part didn't have a conflict driving the plot. But I enjoyed that section because I find zoos and swimming pools interesting. OTOH, my wife quit the book in that section. Obviously there's a conflict driving the plot after the shipwreck.

In the "zoo and pool" part there is a want. The narrator wants to swim in great pools, but that want is not driving the plot. You don't read to find out whether this boy will swim in the olympic pool in London where Michael Phelps won 8 golds. However, after the shipwreck you read to find out how the boy will survive.

There is something universally appealing in traditional plot structures. These stories may still "not work" for various reasons (ex., if you don't care about this boy, or don't care if the heroine finds love). But the desire to reach a resolution is universal.

In Family Furnishings (and the "zoo and pool" part of Life of Pi) there is no conflict needing resolution. You either like the subject matter or you don't, similar to how people like non-fiction or they don't.

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extrinsic
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We can debate ad nauseam the merits and shortcomings of any given story: whether said story has a dramatic structure, whether and why a story appeals, whether a story is worth reading, and so on. But the question I posed is whether a story can succeed without a conventional structure. Alice Munro's writing is read and enjoyed by millions. I assert it has a structure consistent with the story of revelation, as well as other organizing principles, like an otherwise rigidly organized nonlinear timeline, modular picaresque form, and Sterne's "The Specimen" shape. The Life of Pi, Yan Martel, similarly successful.

If they have shortcomings, why are they nonetheless successful? Hype? Buzz? Subjectivity? Because they appeal to audiences, limited though they may be, nonetheless large audiences who find subjective merits in them. Subjectivism.

"Family Furnishings" RyanB and I have been discussing, is in part metafictionally about subjectivism: A Cartesian-based philosophy that posits "our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience" (Richardson, Alan and John Bowden, eds. A New Dictionary of Christian Theology. Norwich, England, SCM Press Limited: 1989. p. 552).

Method and message, structure and aesthetics, subjective appeals and objective writing processes, these are interpretable in any given story for writers with a want to develop writing skills.

Organizing bases of "The Story of Revelation" according to Damon Knight: revelation replaces resolution; narrowing focus from the general to the individual: persons, places, situations, events, details, cricumstances, etc.; and other helper organizing principles from other story types, like conflict or complication central to The Story of Resolution, decision in The Story of Decision, explanation in The Story of Explanation, solution in the Story of Solution; symbolic, intangible, abstract, immaterial yet accessible and appealing emotional meaning in The Unplotted Story.

The three axes of plot, dramatic structure: Antagonism, Causation, and Tension. Like Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. principle quotient, A.C.T. is a matter of one's emphasis not per se shortcoming from any one's limits. If tension emphasizes emotional appeals over suspense appeals, if antagosism emphasizes want over problem appeals, if causation emphasizes cause over effect, only one that suits the audience's expectations must foreground. But generally if a conventional structural expectation, most often The Story of Resolution, a balanced and harmonious structure, isn't met for the audience's sake, the audience won't care and won't read. The singular function of structure for performance genre is simply persuading audiences to feel, emotionally feel, strongly.

Further, the structural distinctions made, first by Aristotle, between simple and complex plots is whether a structure is straightfoward, simple, or twists and turns, complex.

[ July 30, 2013, 03:49 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RyanB
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I agree that it's a story of revelation. I said it didn't have a want/problem driving the plot.

There are plenty of creations people love that don't have conflict. I recently read a book on the Appalachian Trail and loved it. There was no conflict. It merely described and showed the trail.

Some people will like that book and others will not, depending on their interests. Similarly many people like Family Furnishings. It doesn't have to have problems/wants to have an audience.

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extrinsic
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"Family Furnishings" states a clear, strong, and unequivocal want in the final line, that reflects the intangible, less-directly stated complication of the whole.

"This was what I wanted, this was what I thought I had to pay attention to, this was how I wanted my life to be." (emphases mine)

Unconventional to directly state a dramatic complication at the end. Otherwise, we each take from the story and its otherwise offbeat conventional structure and organization what we will, as we will, for our enjoyment and our writing.

[ July 31, 2013, 02:32 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RyanB
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Right, but it can't be driving the plot if it's the last line.

The idea is you read it and you're all enlightened and stuff. I and many others aren't. Many others are.

It's a great thing if you want to know how to knit a sweater and I teach you how to knit a sweater with a book. But that's not a dramatic conflict.

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Denevius
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quote:
But the question I posed is whether a story can succeed without a conventional structure.
This seems a little different from your original post. This is why I said post modern, or if not, experimental fiction (usually literary).

"House of Leaves". Not a conventional structure. "Infinite Jest" isn't also. We already talked about "Finnegan's Wake" in another thread. All of these stories have met concrete levels of success without conventional structures. I would also add the sprawling, convoluted narrative of "Catch 22" as a successful nonconventional novel.

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hoptoad
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we all tend to see what we are looking for
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hoptoad
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it's the phaneron people... PHANERON [Razz]
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kmsf
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I can think of one, but thank Heavens the journal is out of print now.
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extrinsic
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One claims that a narrative, be it more anecdote or vignette or sketch than plotted story, has an organizing dramatic structure, a plot. One claims that the narrative doesn't have a plot or even a trace of a plot feature. Though either claim is privately, reasonably valid, public validation is a matter of detailing points supporting the claim.

The supporting points may be identifying carefully or unintentionally dropped hints, cues, and clues; they may be faint perfume scents; they may be radioactive tracers; they may be breadcrumbs; they may be a blazed trail, they may be peeling bells, they may be explosions and gunplay; they may be a chronologically nonlinear sequence of family gossip, in one case, a closely-held, one hundred percent secret no one gossips about until the climactic moment of its revelation. Points supporting a claim are not a matter of only finding them out of a want to find them; they must be there, they must be identifiable and identified, and they must support the claim in order to validate the claim.

Attorneys claim in courts that you can't prove a negative, though that is neither an absolute nor in and of itself proof that an absence of evidence proves evidence of absence. Not proof in this case, but validation, claiming that a narrative has no plot or features of plot without supporting validation is not a validation of absence.

Areas where I see disagreement are, though the nonlinear picaresque structure has been around for at least a hundred years, it is offbeat and unconventional for readers who have not encountered it much nor dissected its organization.

That a story of a different character, in this case a feminine story--actually, New Feminism: portraying the unique lives of women, not per se reactionary, radical, or political feminism--is inaccessible by and unappealing for readers unfamiliar with and disinterested in the forms and genre.

That the culture-niche target audience does find the narrative accessible and appealing due to expressing in a feminine voice and its appeals, but not a voice expected by readers unfamiliar with and disinterested in the voice.

That the wants and problems of the narrative are intangibly portrayed, shown, might be accessible by the target audience but not readers unfamiliar with and disinterested in the forms and genre.

That the structure of the story of revelation expectations for highly dramatic action is one of many methods that may not be present; however, dramatic action there is: not much antagonism (contending personas and their competing problems and wants [masculine bonding rituals]) but some quiet antagonism is portrayed in the narrator's introspections and other characters responding to her; not much tension in the way of the pathos of fear and pity and curiosity but ample reader rapport potential with a character struggling to cope with emotionally enabling family bonds (co-dependence); not much causation in the manner of highly dramatic tangible causes and effects, mostly intangible, emotionally personal family interactions, actually, but nonetheless causal.

[ July 31, 2013, 04:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RyanB
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I had something of an epiphany here.

A game of baseball has an inherent conflict, but only if you know the rules of the game. And it's only compelling if the reader/watcher cares who wins.

It's the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees are down three to two. There are two outs, a runner on second and Babe Ruth, nursing a sore elbow, is up to bat.

If you know what that means but only care about soccer, it's not compelling. If, to you, a Yankee is a person from the northeast and a Babe Ruth is a candy bar, it's not even a conflict. It's a confusing description of an unimportant setting.

Perhaps I don't see the inherent conflict of a young country girl growing up with a cosmopolitan second cousin because I'm not plugged into the neofeminism wavelength.

That's possible.

Perhaps some people read the ciggie-boo scene and are filled with expectation wondering what sort of blossom this unique flower will produce.

But I still think the story is meant to make one reflect on what they've learned by the whole, not to have a problem wanting resolution or a mystery begging revelation.

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extrinsic
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An apt and potent analogy from baseball for its masculine status competition bonding rituals compared and contrasted with feminine inclusion and exclusion bonding rituals. Exquisite!
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Denevius
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I gotta admit, Ryan, that was a good metaphor. Particularly since I hate baseball and can't understand how anyone can sit through nine innings, and god forbid extra innings. Funny though that a guy from a writing camp I attended years ago who loved based detailed exactly what it is that he loves, and it was the minutia of the game that drove him to it that I couldn't see.

By the way, extrinsic I'm actually not trying to say that writing (good, bad, great, genius) is subjective. I'm not sure if that's what you're taking from my comments. I just thought that, from what I gathered from your first post, that the requirements I *thought* you were seeking in a piece of prose, successful or not, are impossible.

quote:
Let me use Life of Pi to explain. The narrator talks about zoos and swimming pools for quite a while in the beginning. And then there's a shipwreck and you have a boy lost at sea on a boat with a tiger.

The "zoo and swimming pool" part didn't have a conflict driving the plot. But I enjoyed that section because I find zoos and swimming pools interesting. OTOH, my wife quit the book in that section. Obviously there's a conflict driving the plot after the shipwreck.

In the "zoo and pool" part there is a want. The narrator wants to swim in great pools, but that want is not driving the plot. You don't read to find out whether this boy will swim in the olympic pool in London where Michael Phelps won 8 golds. However, after the shipwreck you read to find out how the boy will survive.

I haven't read "Life of Pi" in many years, but what I remember from the experience was that the idea of the book compelled me to buy it in the first place: a boy who is Christian, Muslim, and Jewish gets stuck on a boat with an orangutan, zebra, and tiger.

How could you not at least start a book with that premise?

And I actually it was quite compelling in the beginning because it was mostly philosophic. Not too long before that, I had read "The Illuminatus! Trilogy" and "Schrodinger's Cat" by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (another two successful books breaking conventional structure), and I was into that type of metaphysical story telling.

Really, it wasn't until Pi got on the boat that I became bored as he** by the narrative, and I remember coming close to putting the book down without finishing. Which would have been a mistake because the last two acts of the book were gold, making the journey, in my opinion, worthwhile.

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extrinsic
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quote:
By Denevius
By the way, extrinsic I'm actually not trying to say that writing (good, bad, great, genius) is subjective. I'm not sure if that's what you're taking from my comments. I just thought that, from what I gathered from your first post, that the requirements I *thought* you were seeking in a piece of prose, successful or not, are impossible.

I understand that you mean you believe a prose narrative without dramatic complication is impossible. Many theories and theorists agree, maybe on a semantical point mostly of what defines a story. E.M. Forester in Aspects of the Novel, 1923, for example, says that "'The king died, and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died and then, out of grief, the queen died,' is a plot."

So what's a story? According to other theorists and theories, a story contains a character in a setting eventfully pursuing satisfying a complication.

An anecdote does not per se require a character, setting, and complication. It may be a short narrative portraying "an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident" (Webster's 11th Collegiate). An event is required and the emphasis of an anecdote.

A vignette, like its pictorial counterpart, is a focused snapshot of a moment in time of an arranged portrait of a person, a place, or an object, a still life, so to speak.

A sketch, similar to a vignette, may portray a person, place, or object; however, it is akin to a candid snapshot rather than an arranged portrayal.

Upon reflection, I have read one narrative that comes dangerously close to fitting the criteria I've posited: "Death is Not the End" by David Foster Wallace, published by Grand Street magazine, 1997, and reprinted in the Wallace short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Little Brown, New York, 1999. Vignette or sketch, I believe. Story, perhaps. Plot or plot features, probably not. Decidedly unconventional and probably unsettling for a few readers.

"Death is Not the End" at Archive.org

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Denevius
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As my old Algebra teacher used to say, there's no point in beating a dead horse. If the damn thing's dead, let it be. But honestly, I'm still not entirely sure what your ultimate question is. Is it a question of semantics, such as what is a story? Because if it's a question of semantics, then you probably can't find something close to an objective answer, as I would definitely say that a piece of writing 'without wants or problems', or without a plot, isn't a story. Call it a description, call it an anecdote, can it a bunch of random words, but don't call it a story.

For instance, I would think that it would serve no one any purpose if I called this collection of words, my response, "a story". And yeah, theoretically, I could argue that it is if I make the definition of the word 'story' loose enough until it loses meaning. But again, what's gained, as a writer and as a reader, by doing that?

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extrinsic
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My question is can you name a published story that has no want or problem complication. Secondarily, what other kinds of organizing features might such stories have.

RyanB named a couple candidates, neither I believe fits the bill. You, Denevius, named one possibility, though it's a novel, and I believe it also doesn't fit the bill. I recollected one short story that comes mighty close to fitting the bill. It's a story, maybe not a plotted story, but it's a famous story in some circles outside of academia.

The organizing principles of short stories are more broad than they are for novels, for the most part. So I wonder if as yet unrealized structural methods have potentials, though, if too different from expectations and experiences, they will be completely inaccessible.

Shorter reading-time investments allow for forms and structures that are not required to hold readers' attentions for as long as novels might. Maybe some are experimental features, but every feature of narrative was at one time experimental. However, novels, which do demand mostly conventional structure features, may be partially comprised of segments that are shorter stories, and the shorter stories may be comprised of anecdote, vignette, and sketch segments, even an as yet unrealized short narrative form.

In this digital age, what with nonlinear online content hosting; electronic reading hardware; science fiction and fantasy's potentially fantastical flights of imagination; perhaps artistic benefits from increasingly collaborative online social networking interaction; and the current popularity of fantastical film, what with digital graphics becoming essential to fantastical filmmaking, I can't think of a more appropriate era milieu to consider experimenting in.

[ August 01, 2013, 02:55 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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The Trees, by Franz Kafka

For we are like tree trunks in the snow. In appearance they lie sleekly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can’t be done, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance.

***

I almost think what you're asking for, Extrinsic, is prose poetry. Or riddles. I love Kafka, but I'm reluctant to call much of his shorter writing 'fiction'. Is it intriguing? Yes. Is it a story? No.

At the same time, I consider this Hemingway "story" an actual story:

***
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
***

Six words, but the want and problem are prominent.

I still don't think what you're asking for can be done.

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extrinsic
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I find Ernest Hemingway's famous microfiction piece intriguing for its implied meanings and complication and borrowed classified advertisement form. "For sale: Baby shoes; Never worn."

Take a look at the Wallace short story "Death is Not the End" linked above. Three sentences but 951 words--not counting the end notes--perhaps similar to prose poetry. Some reviewers claim it is; others claim it's not. No expressed or implied want or problem, no complication, no conflict either. A fiction portrait of as near to being stuck in a bathtub and not even navel contemplating as I know of.

Yet two distinguishable organizing features: basic composition's proximity orientation--nearest to far, to not as near to farther and farther yet--and a beginning, middle, ending mechanical structure arrangement: beginning exposition introduction loose sentence (728 words) with the medial pause and the caesura of the middle separating simple sentence (19 words) signaling the turn from the exposition introduction to the ending's loose sentence (204 words). What I'm struggling with has been done and celebrated as accessible and appealing. But it is not to everyone's tastes.

[ August 03, 2013, 11:54 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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But does Kafka's piece meet the requirements you set? And would you call "The Trees" a story?

quote:
I find Ernest Hemingway's famous microfiction piece intriguing for its implied meanings and complication and borrowed classified advertisement form. "For sale: Baby shoes; Never worn."
There's this famous short story I suffered through in undergraduate that was a narrative told through lists. Wish I could think of it now.

Anyway, that Wallace link. The thing is, I tried reading "Infinite Jest" three times, and I loved the writing but hated the style so much that I refuse to read anything else by him. David Foster Wallace, in my opinion, was a genius who liked to insult all the "puny minds" by making his brilliant works almost impossible to finish. Which, you know, kudos to him; but I don't think I'll ever try any more of his pieces.

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extrinsic
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I think a question that might arise is does any given piece express emotional meaning readers might derive? Emotional persuasion is a, or probably the, barest minimum requirement for plot. How a structure organizes that persuasion comes in a near infinite variety. Hemingway's microfiction piece does hold potentially potent emotional meaning for readers who've worn shoes.

The Kafka piece does hold meaning for its analogy to rooted trees and their seeming unyielding grasp on the ground, yet not absolutely unyielding. Might being "wedded to the ground" be a metaphor for life? And letting go for death? Life or death as I know it is one of life's and literature's major dramatic conflicts.

quote:
By Denevius:
There's this famous short story I suffered through in undergraduate that was a narrative told through lists. Wish I could thnk of it now.

I think I've read that, or others like it, and studied it in undergraduate and graduate writing coursework. By a female writer, if I remember. It came up in several courses as a candidate for prose poetry contention, and as a model story in a literary award culture course, along with the Wallace short story and others. I'm taking a momentary break from a dreary textbook editing project right now; otherwise, I'd dig it out of my files. Maybe Lydia Davis? Maybe "Lost Things"? Maybe "What an Old Woman Will Wear"? Davis's short story flair is for lists.

I tried reading William Thackeray Makepeace's Vanity Fair a dozen times before I could immerse in and appreciate it. I had to become a stronger reader and let go of a few presupposed notions before I could. I've since been able to read and appreciate many impossibly inaccessible narratives.

Infinite Jest is on my reading list, when I can get a round-to-it. However, I understand Wallace was self-involved. That's a classic presentation of Reactive Attachment Disorder. His life-long depression may well have been a symptom, too, of that. He, like J.D. Salinger, preferred to live in isolation and was socially awkward. If he could have socially participated more meaningfully and had a stronger sense of belonging to community . . . Maybe he wouldn't have hung himself in 2012.

[ August 02, 2013, 12:00 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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