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The "Null" ending

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devora, Dec 5, 2014.

  1. Devora

    Devora Sage

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    Has anyone ever written a story where the hero succeeds in defeating the villain, but his victory actually leads to more tragedy? (I call it the "Null" ending which is short for "Null and Void" because the ending that the hero strived for doesn't hold.)

    For example: In a cyberpunk story i'm trying to write (i know it's non-fantasy), the hero frees the people from the bondage of computers and the economic system, but it turns out that the people didn't exactly want that--in fact they were pretty complacent with where they were at in life, and thus society falls apart and breaks out into mass pandemonium.

    (If you have an example of a fantasy story that uses this outcome, feel free to post as i would be interested in reading it.)
     
  2. spectre

    spectre Sage

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    I don't have a fantasy example, but I just read a medical thriller with that kind of ending. The MC goes through lengths to prove a nanotechnology company is up to no good, she get's busted because of the tech security and although in the end her group of peers is convinced, she ultimately get's sold into the sex trade by Chinese agents and the stories main villain get's killed by his bosses, who really play a supporting role in the story, the Chinese agents. no good ever comes from the investigation, the story ends in tragedy, unless you count Chinese Mengele-like scientists getting ahold of super modern nanotechnology in the medical industry.

    This is actually the first novel I've read that ends like this, perhaps one other it was a long time ago, and I have to say I was disgusted because I thought she was going to be saved by her Albanian mafia father (lol), but the ending was slightly appeasing. The new archetype in stories, movies especially is the anti-hero and that's what this was a case of.
     
  3. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I read once that comedy was where the heroes fail, fail, and then finally succeed while a tragedy was where they succeed and succeed only to fail at the end. By that what you describe seems to fit a tragedy. If that's not what you meant then... well, something like that seems like bad writing to me. Like you said, it's null and void. None of the hero's struggles and difficulties actually meant anything since they ended up failing. It's even worse than a dream episode since it's not just that the hero ended up on square one, they ended up on some negative square. I think something like that would work best as part of a back story with the protagonist trying to fix things and redeem their greatest failure. It can also be used to set up a sequel, but that would still end up negating the events of the story that it ends with which is bad.
     
    Devora likes this.
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Not gonna lie, this sounds like a non-comedic version of Urinetown.

    P.S. I originally thought this was going to be a No MacGuffin No Winner thread, which is more my style. Was all that conflict really worth it?
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2014
  5. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    Sort of, yes. My first (and only published) book is a little like that. The 'villain' is an oppressive religion, which keeps the population under control by facilitating an endless war. The heroes succeed in taking out the religion and freeing the people, but society becomes highly unstable. I don't dwell on it, though. It's just there in the background, behind the personal-level happy ending, as food for thought: that if you dismantle a working system, you may end up with something less working. A 'be careful what you wish for' scenario.

    There are too many fantasy works where the evil empire is destroyed and the hero takes over without missing a beat. He was a farm-boy in chapter 1, what can he possibly know about running an empire?
     
  6. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

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    Warning spoilers below - how do you do that hidden text trick where you need to click to see the text???

    I haven't written such a story but here are some I've read.

    Animal Farm is a classic - the farm animals get rid of the humans but the pigs are just as bad or worse. Historically you could look at the break up of Yugoslavia too where a tyrant is deposed and terrible violence breaks out.

    The Darksword trilogy (if I remember it correctly) is a fantasy example. The magical society is prejudicial against non-magical people and in the end a technological society invades with great loss of life and destruction of the old society. So yeah no more prejudice but the baby is well and truly thrown out with the bathwater.

    I finished the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series finally. The ending is bittersweet in that yes the kitchen boy ends up king and gets the princess... but the kingdom is in ruins so his role as king is going to be one of many, many problems for years to come. Its careful what you wish for, but not quite the victory causing more tragedy.
     
  7. hots_towel

    hots_towel Minstrel

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    my friend and i were discussing endings to shows, movies, books, et. and all that the other day. we were able to identify a few different types of endings that we've seen and could classify. chances are everyone else has seen all these too, so this is just a reiteration.

    Everyone wins - The protagonist was successful and with little to no cost. Most typical in older stories or childrens stories.

    Pyrrhic victory - The protagonist is successful, but at great cost. Through their own fault, voluntary sacrifice, or just willpower of the opposing force, the protagonist walks away successful with little left to indulge in the victory with.

    Humble defeat - basically the opposite of Pyrrhic victory. Hero looses but is able to find hope still somewhere. Antagonist gets what they want, and it ends up not being what they truly wanted. you could even look at it like a Pyrrhic victory for the antagonist. this one i think would be the hardest to pull off correctly, and i dont think ive seen much media use this type of ending. *Reader satisfaction not guaranteed.*

    Utter defeat - The last obvious one. Also more simply known as the "sad ending." Protagonist looses, everyone feels bad, and is sometimes followed up by a sequel in which the stage is set for a protagonist victory. In recent media, this one is better known as just a "stupid ending," as it just seems to upset people more than accomplish what the creator intended.

    People will generally support it with logic as to why the sad ending makes no sense relative to the rest of the project, but i think its mostly just people who would rather get angry than accept the defeat presented to them. I know that's not always the case (sometimes a sad ending is forced and really does make no sense), but on the other hand, i dont see anyone picking apart happy endings nearly as much. but thats just me, im sure some other people have seen otherwise.
     
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  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Can't think of fantasy novels right now, but a couple of movies come to mind. Spoiler alert.

    The original Planet of the Apes with Charton Heston is kind null. Though he's free, any hope of him returning home is dashed, because he learns he's already home. The planet he crashed on is in actuality Earth after an apocalypse wiped out human civilization.

    The Matrix is like this too. There's no victory over the machines, just a stalemate. The status quo remains.
     
  9. Shreddies

    Shreddies Troubadour

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  10. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    I'm with Hots_Towel, it's a matter of degree. There are plenty of stories that have some token failure (the one Trusty Friend who dies 5 minutes before total victory), and some that explore the cost or the incompleteness of victory. Total failure's certainly rarer, but some people try it.
    • Anime. Not actually common there, but still enough shows have gone for the Full Apocalypse as their ending that there's a meme of "it's so cool! everyone dies!"
    • Game of Thrones. Clearly that story is supposed to be nonstop tragedy up until the moment Good GRRM promises to turn the last book into something else.
    • Literary fiction. Lots of it.

    I think there's a distinction to make here. We could probably agree that, in any conflict,
    • >realism = <likely nobody suffers (win or lose)
    Light, harmless stories are known for fudging that so everyone but the villains gets away clean, while others don't pretend as much. Trouble is, some writers interpret that as
    • >realism = >pain and <wins.

    Not the same -- unless your writing goal is only to be sure nobody thinks you're playing nice.
     
  11. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

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    Have you gone through the endings on tvtropes??
    Main/Ending Tropes - Television Tropes & Idioms

    I'd be very surprised if there wasn't the type of ending you described somewhere in there.

    Warning: if you're new to tvtropes you might not see sunlight/friends/family for the next few days!!
     
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  12. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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  13. Devora

    Devora Sage

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  14. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

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    I think tvtropes is like that black hole Gargantua in Interstellar.... you get too close and time slows down, you come out and everyone has aged 10 years.... I like that website WAY too much :D
     
  15. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

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    Looks like it could be this trope:
    Main/Nice Job Breaking It, Hero - Television Tropes & Idioms

    The trope itself seems more often used for plot twists earlier than the ending, probably to allow the protagonist a chance to right the wrong/solve the new problem they've created, rather than leaving the story hanging at the end. In the case of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the problem is not seen until the next trilogy where he needs to fix it.
     
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