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Must narrative stuff end happily?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by sirvaliantbrown, Nov 28, 2007.

  1. I'm halfway through his "Writing for Story" narrative-writing how-to. It's pretty good. He insists, though, that every excellent narrative story written by a non-master HAS to have a happy ending - or, at very least, a resolution that can be viewed as positive in some way. (Only the superstars, he writes, can pull off non-happy/non-positive.)

    This seems ridiculous to me: while happy might be preferable, surely No Non-Happy shouldn't be a universal rule; surely, there are stories worth telling narratively that are depressing through and through. But...he insists. I'm wondering what some of you vets - calling all jgmacgs - think.
  2. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    I think that's dumb as hell.
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    First I ever heard that. Needs some kind of resolution, for sure, and having no good come of it all sure makes it tough, granted.

    But the facts are the facts. I guess you could have everyone die and add that they saved a lot of money on their car insurance as an upbeat kicker.
  4. Angola!

    Angola! Guest

    Who is he?
  5. One can only assume he means Jon Franklin.
  6. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    I agree with The Jones.

    But I'll add that the level of technical skill required to pull off an ending that's at once satisfying and unhappy; or morally ambivalent, or emotionally enigmatic, or merely bittersweet, is pretty high. I wouldn't prescriptively steer fledgling writers away from trying it, though. I think you have to fail at it a lot - and spectacularly - before you begin to get a sense of how to make resonant, complex endings work.
  7. Chi City 81

    Chi City 81 Guest

    Am I the only one who thinks reading a how-to manual on writing means you've already lost the battle?

    Sure, consult "On Writing Well," Strunker and White, etc., for little pointers/rules here and there ... but an actual how-to? Ugh.

    For example, who is Jon Frankin, and why should his opinion mean more to me than anyone else's? Hell, why would I ask Charlie Pierce or Jones how to write "XXX?" They're amazing writers, but what works for them may not necessarily work for me.

    Sorry, rant over.
  8. hockeybeat

    hockeybeat Guest

    No, no, no, a million times, no.
  9. Angola!

    Angola! Guest

    Who's Jon Franklin?
  10. I give up -- try Google! :D
  11. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    I'm sure you're not the only one...
    But I think there's something to be gained from walking through the process with a master of the craft, just in terms of thinking about different ways to approach a story, to organize your story, to figure out the theme, the meaning, etc. No harm, anyway.
    That said, Writing for Story is not the best example of a good how-to writing book. It's awfully dense and extremely cerebral. A pretty narrative-smart friend of mine, who took a class of Franklin's in grad school, once told me she didn't get what he was talking about in that book until the second time through. I've seen him talk a couple of times and was utterly confused. But the guy did win two Pulitzers for feature writing.
  12. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I really admire writers who can, and do, leave you with some ambiguity, or make that last sentence sting a little. It's really powerful (and in many ways ballsy) to see a writer really expose a subject for who he/she is, especially if it's the kind of piece where you needed all kinds of cooperation from the subject to write the story. I think it was Susan Orlean recently who said that every writer and subject enter into a non-verbal contract where the writer knows he or she is going to gain that person's trust then betray them by exposing them to the world, warts and all.

    I've said this before, but one of my favorite profiles ever was Scott Raab's piece in 1997 about Pete Rose than ran in GQ. The piece is, as many of Raab's pieces are, framed by his love of Cleveland (specifically the Indians) and how he's never truly forgiven Rose for ruining Ray Fosse's career by running him over in the 1970 All-Star game and separating his shoulder. It paints Rose for who he truly is: a soulless, miserable human being, and how instead of becoming the kind of ex-ballplayer we could truly love and miss, he became something else, the kind of guy who pops up on QVC auctions off pieces of his past.

    The final paragraph comes back to the discussion of Fosse, and always struck me as a perfect ending:

    It's not that the non-masters shouldn't try a complicated or ambiguous ending. It's that takes some guts to do so. The easy way to wrap things up is usually the nice, positive way. It's something I struggle with plenty in my own writing.
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