Many popular stories — in everything from fairy tales to Hollywood movies — depict low-probability outcomes: the hero saves the day at the last minute, the lovers overcome all obstacles to be together, and the world is a place of cosmic/karmic justice. Sure, I get that there’s something satisfying about long odds being overcome, and yet I also get a little tired of how predictable these story conclusions are. There ought to be ways of telling stories that aren’t simply about the unusual, infrequent circumstances. Below, then, is a list that is not meant to be cynical (even if some of these scenarios may reflect real-life experiences), but is meant to demonstrate stories that are not often told (in fiction or nonfiction):
1. The better team wins, and the score’s not even close.
2. Two people meet, and are polite to each other, and that’s it.
3. Both combatants act unethically.
4. Someone dies in a car accident and it’s not his fault.
5. An attractive couple has a wonderful house, adorable children, satisfying work, and long lives.
6. A father tells his daughter to marry a man she doesn’t love because, her father says, the man will be a good provider. She marries the man and is provided for but never loves him.
7. A species goes extinct, and nobody is able to save it at the last minute.
8. The bully/criminal/abuser/harasser gets away with it.
9. Scientists warn that human activity will, in coming years, radically change conditions across much of the planet, and most of the population seems uninterested in trying to prevent it.
10. The conflict was never necessary and was joined because of a lack of imagination, wisdom, or patience on both sides.
11. Grass grows; paint dries; taxes accrue; people die.
12. The first person to die in an action story narrates the story, and stops narrating when he dies, and the story stops there.
13. Readers see a few moments of stream-of-consciousness of every person at a public event, like a concert or a football game.
14. A war is going on, but it’s meaningful only to the humans involved. Animals in the war zone go about their business, and we see the story from the animals’ P.O.V.
15. The writer stops telling the story and never finishes it.
16. The characters in a book are revealed to be merely ideas and not really relatable to real people at all.
17. The story, if indeed there is a story there, never quite gets conveyed by the words that make up the text that purports to tell the story.
18. The would-be writer stops thinking of his own life as if he were the main character of a novel.
19. The characters resist the author’s directorial control and refuse to carry out what the writer writes.
20. A reader sits in the grass and realizes that the story was all just made up B.S. anyway.
P.S.: I’ve got a theory lately that there are two kinds of stories: those that show characters getting the consequences they deserve, and those stories that are about story-form itself.