J.M. Williams

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Three Little-Known Reasons Ennui Is Perfect For Setting Up Emotional Satiety In Fiction

Dec
29

This post has got me thinking. I have a couple ideas on what Victor has to say here.

First, it really depends on what you’re writing. Novels do really benefit from the sort of settling-in that he describes. But short stories, and especially flash stories, do not have the benefit of lazy starts. Short stories need to start fast, flash stories need to already be moving when they start. The two examples Victor provides are not a very fair comparison; they are not equal stories of different styles. Even so, if I were writing a flash piece, the top example would be much preferred. In the modern market–especially online–you need to hook your reader in the first few sentences or they will move on. The second example doesn’t seize my attention. It goes back to the idea of presenting your crisis up front. Particularly with flash, I want to know what the story is about right away so I can decide if I’m going to bother finishing it. Knowing its about shooting aliens, rather than complaining about being bored, goes along way to keep me from deleting the daily story (I probably don’t finish the majority of stories that end up in my inbox). Another key consideration with shorter pieces is relevance. Does this connect is someway to the central crisis?

The second thing that came to mind was how novels deal with using normalcy. I am currently working through Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’m not really sure if I like it. Part of that is how he uses normalcy. His books starts as Victor suggests, describing the protagonist’s boring, normal life–a boring office job, and emotionally abusive love-life that he doesn’t even notice. The problem is that even after starting his adventure, after discovering a new world, the protagonist is still the same passive, bland, boring, apathetic person he was in the beginning. Stories are about change, and this guy doesn’t change. Not that he refuses to change; it isn’t a result of his agency acting against evens for the sake of normalcy. No, he just doesn’t react to anything. As Victor suggests, we like a boring start because we all want something interesting to happen to us, we want to reject and cast aside the boring life for a life of adventure. It really annoys me to have a protagonist not seize the gift he has been given and instead whine constantly about going back to his boring life. For those who have read Neverwhere, as time goes by and the protagonist proves himself more and more to be a completely passive, unquestioning, unthinking follower, it becomes hard–if not impossible–to believe he was ever capable of committing the act that was necessary to start him on this path. It has left the story a bit broken for me, because I no longer believe it.

But that’s just my thinking. Maybe other readers are more flexible than I. And none of this is to suggest that ennui is not a very go way of getting readers attached to your characters, it just needs to be done carefully and in line with other elements of story construction.

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