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I have a piece of non-fiction to write that I'll be doing by telling a story. It's somewhere between a news report, op-ed, and historical lesson, but told as a short story.

In this story there are no good guys, nobody who fell from grace, and nobody to save the day. It's just a bunch of bad guys doing a bunch of bad guy stuff. The story also spans several years including today, so there isn't a protagonist or central character to see through the eyes of.

I'm having trouble finding is what genre or style this would be classified if it were being told as a fictitious story. It isn't a dilemma, maybe it's a tragedy, but is there some classification that better fits what I've described?

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    Does the piece sympathise with these "Bad Guys," and is anyone attempting to stop these bad guys? Commented May 31, 2020 at 9:33
  • The piece does not sympathise with them, and any editorializations away from the timeline of events that the piece is built around will certainly be negative. As for anyone trying to stop them, there have been a handful of efforts over the years that weren't effective and quickly ran out of steam. Commented May 31, 2020 at 14:19
  • Do you mean no heroes or no protagonists? Fiction in general almost has to have a protagonist in order to have a viewpoint to follow or drive the narrative forward. However, those protagonists don't have to be heroic, and can be outright evil. Breaking Bad and Death Note are good examples of works that have villainous protagonists and no good people even in the supporting cast except for extremely minor characters. It wouldn't really be a genre or literary form of its own, just "a story where there are no characters who are decent people". It's a trope choice not a genre/style choice. Commented May 31, 2020 at 20:49
  • As an addendum, TvTropes typically calls this Black and Grey Morality or Evil Versus Evil Commented May 31, 2020 at 20:51
  • Both, really... There are definitely no heroes and I don't think there's a protagonist either. The case could be made that the last bad guy the story works up to is the protagonist, or even that I or the reader is the protagonist, but that's kind of a stretch. You're probably right about it being a trope choice; I was just hoping that Shakespeare or somebody way back when had written something similar that had a proper name. Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 5:24

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This is slice of life, a storytelling technique that depicts a period of time without a conventional narrative or plotline, and potentially without an identifiable protagonist. It's relatively uncommon in fiction, but relatively common in documentaries, although those are often really a series of little mini-stories, each with their own protagonist.

At the cinema, Robert Altman and Richard Linklater are two directors often associated with slice-of-life style fiction movies.

You might call your work "slice-of-life, crime-documentary storytelling."

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  • This sounds like the best fit. Interestingly enough, I'm a big Richard Linklaer fan, but never knew of the 'slice of life' genre... I just thought he made really interesting off-kilter movies. Thanks for the help! Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 13:45
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Is it similar to "And then there are none"?

And Then There Are None is classified under:

  • Mystery

  • Crime

  • Psychological thriller

  • Horror

I think your book might fit under one of these (except mystery).

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  • The piece details many crimes, so that's the obvious choice. What I'm trying to find out is if there is a more academic term or name for a story that has no heroes that was developed by the historical greats of western literature... and there may not be. Commented May 31, 2020 at 14:34
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I believe the term you're looking for may be 'Creative Non-Fiction'.

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You're not so much describing a specific "genre" as much as you're describing a "class" of fiction. Shawn Coyn describes three different classifications of fiction along a bell curve of popularity: the MiniPlot, the ArchPlot, and the AntiPlot. You've almost-perfectly described a story that falls into the AntiPlot or "experimental fiction" classification.

To save you a google search, the three very general classifications are:

MiniPlot

  1. Small Event Causality
  2. Inconsistent Reality
  3. Nonlinear Time
  4. Internal Conflict
  5. Multiple Protagonists
  6. Passive Protagonists
  7. Open Ending

(This is the far left side of the bell curve. The more of these traits your story has, the smaller the audience will be for it... remember, these are degreed qualities! If you only have two or three of these, you'll be on the slope somewhere, not the flat "super-niche tiny audience" part of the bell curve)

ArchPlot

  1. Big Event Causality
  2. Consistent Reality
  3. Linear Time
  4. External Conflict
  5. Single Protagonist (Single POV? maybe)
  6. Active Protagonist
  7. Closed Ending

(This is the middle of the X axis: hit all these traits and you're smack in the center of the fat part of the popularity bell curve, maximizing your chances of a blockbuster. Not guaranteeing. Just maximizing. These can all be done badly)

AntiPlot

  1. No Causality: Meaningless Coincidence
  2. Indeterminate Reality
  3. Indeterminate Time
  4. Indeterminate Conflict
  5. Indeterminate Protagonist
  6. Purposeless Protagonist (who acts randomly)
  7. Indeterminate Ending

(This is the far right side of the bell curve. The more of these traits your story has, the smaller your potential audience. Sure, write this kind of story really well and you will find an audience, probably even a traditional publisher, but it will be a comparatively tiny super-niche audience, and unless you've written Waiting for Godot, you'll be lucky to earn out your advance. Even that story has two obvious protagonists and clear internal conflict, pulling some market share from the MiniPlot side of the curve. It also has consistent—albeit absurd—reality and painfully linear time, so those two factors at least make it more accessible to regular people. It's only got three out of these seven AntiPlot traits. But yes, there really are published works that tick all these boxes. And yes, you'll never see them on bestseller lists.)

So from what little you've said in your question, here's where your story falls on the curve:

...there are no good guys, nobody who fell from grace, and nobody to save the day. It's just a bunch of bad guys doing a bunch of bad guy stuff. The story also spans several years including today, so there isn't a protagonist or central character to see through the eyes of.

  1. No Causality - you're intentionally avoiding a plotline or story arc, right? Antiplot
  2. Consistent Reality - no mindfucking. Archplot
  3. Linear Time - boring, but no unexplained time jumps, right? Archplot
  4. "External" Conflict - on the surface anyway. But do these guys have a nemesis trying to stop them? or just a series of victims or would-be victims? "There's nobody to save the day" so what really is the conflict here? Indeterminate conflict = Antiplot
  5. Multiple Protagonists - if you can call them that. Miniplot
  6. Purposeless Protagonists - that's kind of your point, right? Antiplot
  7. Indeterminate Ending - because there's no arc or plot, the story just stops at some point? Antiplot

Your story is mostly Antiplot (4 traits) with one Miniplot trait that might actually be Antiplot if the reader can't tell whether there are any protagonists. You do have a couple of Archplot traits here, since it's "nonfiction" and therefore assumes linear time and consistent reality. That's a total of five Antiplot and two Archplot.

Most fiction (and narrative nonfiction) genres are Archplot or some blend of Archplot and Miniplot. They'll be turned off by this. This idea of yours doesn't fit any of those genres at all, it can't satisfy any of the genre expectations with this much Antiplot going on.

Most Antiplot fans are actively looking for "literary works" that are as absurd and Antiplot as you can get. Your two Archplot traits may actually be turnoffs for them.

Your best shot may be to embrace at least one more Antiplot trait, and appeal to that audience intentionally. Either tell the story in a way that shows one or more of your characters descending into madness and losing touch with reality (so reality, at least from their POV, becomes "Indeterminate"), or tell the story in a way that makes unexplained hops into the past and future, so that time becomes indeterminate for the reader, at least part of the time. Bonus points if, by the end, the reader isn't sure anymore when they are (or were) elsewhen.

Honestly, those don't seem to be huge changes to the story idea you've described. Make one or both of those changes, embrace the meaningless chaos that already appeals to you (for this story idea), and pitch it as "experimental fiction." Seriously, that's a genre. Books are published every month as "experimental fiction" or "experimental literature" (your fans will be literati).

Best of luck to you!

And if you do finish it and publish it, please add a link here in a comment. I'd love to see how it turned out. Turns out. Might turn out. Whatever. ;-)

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  • Nevermind the bot, I found your answer very informative and I appreciate you taking the time to post it! It's been almost 3 years since I wrote / sent the story off, and it didn't generate any interest. I'm not a professional writer, so not surprised or disappointed by that, but I do enjoy pretending to be from time to time. It helps me organize my thoughts, and I think this will certainly help me out in the future when I get my next bright idea. Cheers! Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 0:44
  • Happy to help! Keep experimenting! Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 10:34

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