Stories where nothing big happens

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I can definitely enjoy a story where nothing big is happening, where the salvation of the world doesn’t hinge on the actions of the protagonists, where the issues involved are small scale and low stakes.

I would imagine that these types of stories would be hard to sell to publishers. Lowell’s Solar Clipper novels appear to have been self-published, and Sharon Lee and Steve Miller practically define “niche” with their Liaden novels – they don’t need to “sell” any particular book, I presume; the Liaden series itself has already been “sold.”

What else is there in the ordinary-life low-stakes category? Not much, probably, but every now and then part of a book falls into this category even though there is more of a high-tension plotline in the story as well. I can think of a few examples:

Of the two halves of An Interior Life, I definitely preferred the ordinary daily-life contemporary half to the adventurous fantasy half. Sue isn’t the one saving the world; she has no effect on the protagonists who *are* saving the world, yet somehow her decisions about what color to pain the living room and how to handle her husband’s smarmy boss take over the book.

In the sequel to Cyteen, Regenesis, the part I liked best was Justin and Grant and Ari and everyone getting their lives in order and settling into Ari’s new household. There were some high stakes issues in Regenesis, too – who did kill the first Ariane Emory? Is the world going to fall to a coup? – but first, I didn’t really care who killed the first Ari, and second I assumed that the good guys would win and the coup attempt would fail. But third, really the whole point of the novel, to me, was simply to let everyone, especially Justin and Grant and Ari herself, get their lives in order so that we could have a happily-ever-after type of ending.

In addition to Höst’s Gratuitous Epilogue for the Touchstone trilogy, I would be happy to read another book in Bujold’s Sharing Knife world, just watching Dag and Fawn and everyone live their daily lives. That s right up there with Stories I Would Grab Off the Shelf. A malice outbreak would be fine, but I would expect it to be used to show how the farmers and lakewalkers are more able to work together than in the past; the point of the story would be just show everyone moving into a happily-ever-after future. That would so work for me.

Anyway, in certain kinds of moods, I am plainly a kind of reader that I don’t think publishers realize exists: the kind that enjoys a story in which nothing very striking or climactic happens, in which tension is generally low, in which the pace is primarily slow and day-to-day life takes center stage, in which character development is mainly about characters starting out in a pretty good place and then growing into themselves in a non-dramatic fashion.

This does make me curious: how many of you think or know that you also enjoy that kind of story?

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7 thoughts on “Stories where nothing big happens”

  1. I would be quite happy to read a book that’s just Bren Cameron drinking tea. I feel that this would be a happy end to the series and very relieving to my nerves.

  2. Yes! In non-fantasy/sci-fi books, I love James Herriott, D.E. Stevenson, Miss Read … books about everyday lives of ordinary people. Translate that into a fantasy/sci-fi realm, and I am SO SOLD.

  3. Yes to all of this! I love those kinds of books, and those parts where I find them in overal more exciting books. Like where Bren is just sitting in his office on his country estate, planning an addition to the house, before something happens and the exitement kicks in.
    Some older juveniles have that atmosphere, like a lot of the books by Monica Edwards – I wish the new publisher would bring those out as ebooks. Like some of the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome, there’s often some “exiting adventure for teens” in the books, but also a lot of just happily living their lives and enjoying their holidays.
    The Runaways/Linnets and Valerians by Eizabeth Goudge has some of that, as well as a bit of magic atmosphere.
    And some of the milder modern romances sometimes appear to have some of that, though then there’s always tge love story as well. The better of Katie Fforde’s (Restoring Grace) and Jenny Colgan’s (Little beach street bakery is the only one I’ve read) books have a bit of that for me.
    It doesn’t seem to be very common in the Fantasy and SF genre, apart from the examples you mentioned. Bujold’s newest two are more like that, both Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and Gentleman Jole and the red queen are more relaxed, and very enjoyable.

  4. I also enjoy this kind of low-tension character building. It tends to be more introspective, which I appreciate, but also, I love the glimpse into someone else’s day-to-day. People say books enable the reader to see a new perspective; in this sense, it’s an understanding and appreciation of how a person might live. Point in case, I loved seeing Cass grow as a mother in the Gratuitous Epilogue, and how she and Kaoren interacted with their children, helping them grow and providing safe haven (without serious drama!).

    Patricia C. Wrede’s Frontier Magic series has a nice helping of this introspection and day-to-day.

  5. Some of the Grimes books by A. Bertram Chandler seemed to be visits to well know characters in a familiar setting.
    In a few of the (mystery/detective) Spenser books by Robert B. Parker nothing really happens and there is not much of a mystery but still fun reads just to see what the gang is up to.
    Both are fairly long series filled with old friends that I enjoy rereading.

  6. Well, I don’t know how big the readership for this kind of story is, but plainly I’m not alone! I totally agree: a story all about Bren having a nice peaceful vacation with nothing more stressful than a bit of maneuvering to get a piece of legislation past the legislature would be a great pleasure.

    James Herriott, absolutely.

    Bret, I do think this kind of story is probably most appealing in a long series, where the reader has really gotten to know the characters and can appreciate a story where things just work out for everyone without a lot of drama.

  7. I think I have two books that meet the criteria: GREENWILLOW by Chute, a very quiet romance and slice of village life story, with maybe a bit of magic. (One main character thinks he has a family curse.) It has the feel of some of Elizabeth Goudge’s work.

    Also Margery Sharp’s THE FLOWERING THORN, which is superficially the story of a young woman about town – in the twenties-ish – who moves to the country when she takes on a four year old. And she turns into a real person while apparently nothing much happens except the kid gets older. She still likes her town friends, but … it’s different now.

    Rumer Godden must have written some, too, but I can’t dredge the titles out of my mind.

    Islandia might be an example in SF/F but it’s been a VERY long time since I read it.

    My backbrain seems to think McKillip’s BARDS OF BONE PLAIN is such a book. It does have a lot of mundane life in it.
    I liked those parts of REGENESIS, too. Never cared much about Ari 1’s cause of death.

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