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I am currently sketching a novel about people at the end of time, some months or years before the Big Crunch:
There is a space station full of people who can only sit and watch as their final moment draws closer and closer. There are several different characters involved, from the rational boss, who tries to keep everything running (why? Because it's his job, he's responsible to make sure everyone survives as long as possible), to some religious people who finally meet their gods, to some young overly curious scientists who cannot wait to see what's coming, to the depressive maniac, who tries to blow up everything before the Crunch.

My problem is: From the beginning on, the reader will know, no one will survive and the let's call him Captain is fighting a useless struggle, because it is the Big Crunch. He can basically only sit and watch and help others getting along in their final moments.

Is this idea worth being written, or will the obvious ending drive readers away?

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    You should check out "On The Beach" by Nevil Schute, similar concept and reader has very clear idea from the beginning of the novel that everyone will eventually die, and yet the novel is still very enjoyable to read – celeriko Jun 2 '17 at 14:52
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    The fact that the "star-crossed lovers" are going to die is stated in the prologue to Rome and Juliet. That has not driven audiences away for the last 400 years. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 2 '17 at 15:09
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    I recently read a short story that you should read. Invest 25 minutes or so in "Burn" by Daniel Swensen (currently free on Amazon for Kindle). Watch how it unfolds. – Monica Cellio Jun 2 '17 at 15:44
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    As Plato said, the audience knows the end what they want to know is the denouement i.e how to get to the end – SleepingGod Jun 3 '17 at 12:22
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    I don't think many people go to see Waiting for Godot expecting him to appear, and still they come. – oerkelens Jun 4 '17 at 11:13
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Just because The Crunch happens doesn't mean that your protagonists all lose.

Yes, the obvious antagonist is The Crunch. But is that all your heroes are fighting? Is that all they're striving for?

All your heroes are facing imminent doom. That does things to people. They may lose faith, or gain it (the religious folks — and they can have diverse reactions). People cling to routines (the boss) or descend into hysterical nihilism (the maniac).

You don't have A Plot as much as A Series of Character Arcs. Those individual conflicts are interesting and worth exploring. The Series of Arcs is the point of your story, not the Inevitable Crunch.

Also, who says The Crunch has to kill everyone? Maybe you have a side thread of a ship rushing to save everyone, or somehow divert The Crunch, or The Crunch is actually a way to pass into another universe. et cetera. Then you have both the resolution of the various Character Arcs and the exploration of what happens when people prepare themselves for death but it doesn't happen.

If your givens aren't working, change your givens.

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    @AlexandervonWernherr Both. You have the overall arc of Oh Shit The Crunch Is Coming and individual character arcs of how each person or group of people deals with that. How important the overall arc becomes is up to you depending on what you want to do with the story. It could end up being a background thing if the characters are the point. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jun 2 '17 at 13:07
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    You have a big crunch, the entire universe at your command, and you believe that there is no god. Why are you not attempting the published scenario to take control of the crunch itself to provide infinite power to a one-dimensional computer and brain-upload all of yourselves into it? – Joshua Jun 2 '17 at 17:57
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    @AlexandervonWernherr - Just realize what you're writing about: death, inevitability. You don't know what the crunch will look like irl, and you won't be around to see it. Your readers also will never see it, what will you all see? Death (unless medicine comes a really long way soon). So, they don't lose when the crunch happens. The people who don't accept death as a part of life lose. The people who come to accept win. But not those who accept it blindly, or for selfish reasons. The church as a whole likely expects God to come down and save them personally, but does he? Does every member... – EvSunWoodard Jun 2 '17 at 20:41
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    of the congregation accept that God will come down? Do they accept that he won't in the final minutes? Do they pray anyway? Do they curse God and die a horrible meaningless death? It's all about setting the victory condition. In normal good vs. evil books, the victory condition is easy, the good guy beats the bad guy. But with inevitable death, you have to realign your story with new victory conditions, since you can't beat death. – EvSunWoodard Jun 2 '17 at 20:43
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    Depends if the Crunch is only happening in this universe/reality/quantum thread, and if the ship in question is a blue police box helmed by a madman with a British accent. ;) Remember that we're trying not to treat this as a "what to write" question but as a generic "My characters are facing Certain Doom; what do I do?" question. In someone else's story, Certain Doom could be a volcano, a plague, starvation, zombies, or lack of coffee. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jun 2 '17 at 21:29
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The ending is obvious in most books. In a romance, will the heroine get the guy? Obviously yes. In a detective novel, will the detective get the bad guy? Obviously yes.

Wanting to know how it ends is not actually about wanting to know the facts of the ending, or no one would ever reread a book. It is about wanting the experience of the ending.

A novel is an experience, not a puzzle. It's appeal depends on how compelling an experience you create, not on whether we know how it ends.

But also, what matters to us about the end of story is not what happens but how the characters face what happens. Stories are a kind of emotional rehearsal. A book such as you describe provide an emotional rehearsal for facing death. There is a huge appeal in that.

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I would like to second the notion of what Mark says. Most stories, you know the ending. These endings are obvious because they are the cookie cutter stereotype plots that is and comes EXPECTED of said genres. The trick isn't that you fooled them with the ending. No one will want to read it again because the trick is now known and the whole mystery element that you build the book around loses it's appeal for reread value. We read these epic hero stories like Lord of the Rings over and over again. We read books that are pretty much an exact copy with different character names and hail it "refreshing". Adding your own spice and twists certainly ADDS to the story, but it shouldn't be the FOCUS of the story.

We read books because we want to get lost in a different world, different life, a fantasy, live through past history. Story telling is a lot like telling a joke. How many times has someone told you and a group of people a joke that you all thought was hilarious but when you try to bring up that same joke down the road to the same group of people, no one laughs? It's about the delivery and not necessarily about the content.

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Stories are not about what happens but about how the people (or things) get there.

Lets look at Star Wars. Episode 1-3. We know the ending. We know Anakin becomes Darth Vader. We know Yoda ends up on Degoba. We Know Anakin has two kids; one is sent to Alderaan, one is sent to Tatooine. We know Anakin is not the hero. We know how the story ends. But They still made 3 whole movies getting there.

"Memento" is a great movie of discovery that actually plays backwards. You know the ending at the start and you go though the story trying to find the "start".

Keep in mind that, with fiction, we care more about the story that is told then the ending. We know the ending. No one goes to an Iron Man movie thinking that Iron Man is going to die. We know he will win. We go and still wath for the journey.

On of my favorite series of book is wheel of time. The very first paragraph of the very first book tells you the ending. Yet there are still 13 books covering the trip on how they got there.

I would enjoy a book that has a bunch of people trying to cope with an obvious, yet unfavorable outcome. So long as those people are well developed and not just stand-ins. It's not the end that is important but the journey.

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To add my ideas to this set of excellent answers, I believe it'd the worth thinking:

What can be achieved in the end?

Even in death, there can still be a light to cling on to. Even if the heroes die, you could surprise the reader by letting them still achieve something that will go beyond the end of the world.

If you feel your ending is obvious, then it goes without saying that you should try and create twists and turns in it. If you absolutely must kill everyone, then don't just 'kill everyone'. That's boring, and in my opinion, bad storytelling because it would make me think 'is that it?'. Instead, create a catch, or something interesting that will change the fact that everyone has died.

Captain may know he is fighting in an endless struggle, though if he truly has to accept, can he not do anything interesting to make that 'acceptance' slightly less than acceptance?

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  • If you are at all into anime, then Wolf's Rain does a wonderful take on the catch that you discuss here. The characters you get to know and love over more than two dozen episodes or several hundred pages die at the end -- or do they? We don't quite know! It looks like they do, and then it looks like they don't. – a CVn Jun 13 '17 at 19:40
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when I was reading the questions and answers here - a very recent movie comes to mind: Passengers (warning - spoilers below):

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

In other words - we know they are eventually going to die before reaching their destination - either of old age - or more likely from a variety of other reasons.

This definitely does not ruin the movie. The story is about what happens during the trip. It's about the relationships. It's about how they try to survive in the meantime.

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It's not really about the end but it's more about the road to get there. After all, we all know that humans have a lifespan and are going to die anyway but we still want to make our lives worthwhile and impactful. In this case, if the end is really obvious, maybe you can write about the different points of views of each of the groups. However, do not completely destroy hope. For example, there is this anime I watch where there is this superstitious person who brings around lucky items. He says that the lucky items will help him achieve success. They show that he achieves success when he has the lucky item but they don't say he achieved success because of his lucky item but he achieved success because of his hard work. I mean, this is just an example. You must also take note that the quality of work can be more important than the quantity. Namely, you don't give many conflicts but you describe the depth of the conflicts and the severity and why it impacts the protagonists so greatly. That way, even if the ending is obvious, there is joy in reading it.

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You know the Titanic sank, right? And in the Bible the MC dies, right?

If a are new writer seeking to be published commercially I seriously doubt your plot will prove popular. Commercial fiction basically amount so 'comfort reading'. "Everybody dies" is unlikely to get you published.

However, I disagree with Mark Baker's assertion: "A novel is an experience, not a puzzle. It's appeal depends on how compelling an experience you create, not on whether we know how it ends." - 'Whodunnits" and "Thrillers" are wholly, or in part, puzzles.

If you have the skills: misdirection and red herrings can be deployed to shake the reader's resolve when initially believing they know the outcome.

There are also times when the directed outcome is not true outcome.

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    You keep asserting the popular fiction is all about happy endings, but if you look at the shelves, or look at Netflix, you will find that the dark dominates popular fiction today. And while whodunits and thrillers are in part puzzles, they don't succeed principally on how puzzling they are. They succeed as an examination of the experience of facing difficult decisions posed by puzzling events. If it were the puzzle alone, no one would ever reread these books, and yet they do. – user16226 Jun 2 '17 at 14:34
  • I will explain this ONE TIME. Stephen King, JK Rowling, Dan Brown and they like can write whatever they like. As a NEW writer, no publisher will accept anything outside of acceptable plots - story-lines that have worked for 'no brand' writers in the past. Acquisitions Editors are in a bind. They are tasked with seeking new an exiting dishes who will ultimately be rejected by the bean-counters because its not an exact copy of Heinz. . . . Like a Golf, but not a Golf, but a hatchback. – Surtsey Jun 2 '17 at 14:59
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    Wonderful! I'm so glad you are not going to explain it again! Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Dan Brown, of course, were never new writers. They were created in a petri dish in the basement of at Penguin Random House from skin samples taken from Ian Fleming and Daphne DuMaurier. – user16226 Jun 2 '17 at 15:23
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    Madeline Miller's debut novel was The Song of Achilles, set during the Trojan War. Practically everybody died. Including the narrator and the man he loved. (Which most readers knew going in.) The book won lots of prizes and was quite successful. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeline_Miller#The_Song_of_Achilles – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jun 2 '17 at 16:25
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    This answer assumes that "Is it worth being written?" is a totally monetary decision. It's not. A story can be worthwhile even if no one but the author reads it. Aside from that, there are plenty of examples of things that become cult classics - by definition, not wildly popular. How can you tell a good story if your main motivation is how much money it will make? That's where drab TV knockoffs come from. – Joe Jun 7 '17 at 8:31

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