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A question for readers and writers....
blaisepascal
When I was in grade-school, a teacher did, as a learning exercise, a stock-market simulation where we, the students, bought and sold "stock", based on the value of the stock indices in the mid to late 1920s.

I knew what was going on. I knew about the stock market crash of October 1929 already. I knew that I could come out a "winner" with lots of "money" by betting aggressively, watching the "date", and pulling everything out in September or early October 1929. I had it all planned out.

I got caught up in the game, missed my exit window, and "lost" everything.

As readers of stories, how do you feel about having real-world events inject into stories in ways you should have seen coming, but might not have if you got caught up everything?

As writers of stories, do you feel that sort of thing is a cop-out?

An example, since it's in my head and the above questions are now sounding meaningless without it....

Imagine a story of a couple in love. They met at a Y2K party at a mutual friends, hit is off, and have a whirlwind romance that lasts over a year. At the end of the story, they are vacationing together in New York a week after labor day, and on a beautiful Tuesday morning, their itinerary takes them to the observation deck of the largest skyscraper in the city, overlooking the harbor. He has a ring in his pocket, she hopes he has a ring in his pocket, the reader has every expectation that he'll "pop the question", she'll accept, and it'll be a great climax to the story so far -- except for the readers who have figured out that the Tuesday a week after labor day just over a year after Y2K is September 11th, 2001, and the largest skyscraper in the city at that time was the World Trade Center, and that the morning of September 11th, 2001 is a very bad time to be on the observation deck of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The key is that the foreshadowing of the date and place were all there in the story. It's not like a plane crash came out of nowhere killing the principle characters for an ending -- well, it is, but in this case a reader who was paying attention could have seen what was happening. The writer didn't say, explicitly "9/11, WTC", but did say enough to pin down that that was when and where.

How, as a reader, would you react to such an ending? As a writer, could you justify such an ending?

Personally, I'm not sure I'd be satisfied with that as an *ending*. As a jarring transition from one aspect of the story to another, sure -- much like the death of Marion Crane, which transitioned her film from the story of a woman embezzling for love to something vastly different. But if that were the ending, I'd probably feel like the rest of the story had no point.

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SNIP
As writers of stories, do you feel that sort of thing is a cop-out?
SNIP

It depends on how you use the events. Using it as a backdrop or as a way to provide data for your readers without spending chapters on data for background works. It allows you to get to the story with less set up.

K

Yes... at the beginning of the story for scene-setting. But what about as an ending?

Does the story end with them dying horribly on 9/11, or is it backdrop for the rest of the story?

If it's the first, then it's like the movie "Mother, Jugs, and Speed", where they spend the whole movie running from the cops, trying to cross the state line, where they can't be grabbed for whatever crime it was.

They succeed! They're watching the cops receding in the distance, and they're laughing at their success.

...and a train comes out of nowhere and kills them. The End.

Most people I know who saw that ending felt like it was a cop-out. "Well, they're bad guys, so they HAVE to pay, even though we centered the movie around them."

If I read a story like that, it's likely that I'd throw the book across the room if the ending you give is the ending of the story, rather than the beginning of a mood change for the story, and would probably tell everyone I knew to avoid that story.

However, as a writer - and I speak only for MY writing style in this - I can easily see using that as the backdrop for a strong love story. The fight the two have to make it safely to the bottom and away before the buildings fall. Remember, once you drive home the date, you've also built in a timer for the situation.

Having them die at the end after making us care about them in the manner listed in your question is either a 50's Twilight Zone ending, or the modern push for "realism" in a story, which is usually a code phrase for "pointless nastiness". (Mind you, having them both die, knowing that they're going to, but they saved someone else's life in the process can mitigate that feeling, if written right. But saving that person has to stick, so to speak.)

real-world events inject into stories

Your first question was "As readers of stories, how do you feel about having real-world events inject into stories in ways you should have seen coming, but might not have if you got caught up everything?"

And I'm fine with that. Your 9/11 example is great.

Your second and third questions: "How, as a reader, would you react to such an ending? As a writer, could you justify such an ending?"

Having the characters die suddenly is a lousy ending regardless of how you kill them off. Well . . . it is how at least one season of "Black Adder" ended, which may mean you can get away with it if you are writing humor. But generally "and they all died. the end." is bad writing.

toddalcott says one of the keys to good plot writing is the GAP between what the protagonist expects and what he gets. So starting off as a romance and suddenly turning into a disaster is good. As long as the disaster plot goes somewhere. If they were on the observation deck they wouldn't have died instantly. I understand some people were able to get down from floors above where the plane crashed. But how they did it and what it did to their relationship is the key.

Look... People loved "Titanic". "The boat sinks" doesn't give away the plot.




perhaps you should have invested some time analyzing which stocks survived the crash & invested in *them*?

Frankly, I wouldn't count on a lot of readers making that connection. (I didn't until you pointed it out) So you have the shock value, which is good.

I'm funny that way, though. I don't mind when the story ends at death. Love stories that end with one or both partners dying, ESPECIALLY at a moment of happiness, gives me a sad little thrill.

The only catch is, with this particular historical incident, we have most of the names of the dead and the missing. It could be seen as exploitation, although nearly 7 years later, maybe not.

As a romance writer, ^_^ I would go for it as is. Leaving the question 'do they survive' hanging will frustrate an audience to no end, but opens the possibility for another story. Or you can make it clear. That's up to you. I see no need to "justify" the ending. It's YOUR story, you write it as you see fit.

I wanna read it!

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