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Shoot the Shaggy Dog

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"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."
Macbeth, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

As unfortunate as it is, sometimes an author will go one step beyond a "Shaggy Dog" Story, and Shoot the Shaggy Dog. They won't just let everyone die; they'll make the characters' accomplishments a moot point and their deaths completely senseless. They won't just have the protagonist die an agonizing death; they'll trap him in a grim cycle of reincarnation, and make them a failure in every incarnation. Sometimes they won't even kill anyone; the protagonist won't even get to bring the antagonist down with them, but the antagonist will win everything and go unpunished, even up to the point where the antagonist kills the protagonist instead in the most Cruel and Unusual Death yet. All in all, the only thing that's changed in the last 400 pages is that a few ineffectual people have died... some of whom were the protagonists.

Occasionally part of An Aesop, to show just how crappy the world becomes when you violate the lesson; frequently used to try and show a 'gritty', cynical world. Sometimes, it's an attempt at tragedy that makes the mistake of nullifying itself by making it impossible to care. Depending on the particulars, it can overlap with Diabolus ex Machina, and is a frequent cause of Angst Aversion and Audience-Alienating Ending. In short, this is a story where at its conclusion you have to ask "What the hell was the point?"

NOTE: An ending in which the heroes die or are implied to die does not, on its own, a Shoot The Shaggy Dog make. This trope should refer to stories where the protagonists are ineffectual, accomplish nothing, fail to bring villains to justice, and they die.

The ultimate Downer Ending. See also Crapsack World. Compare Reset Button Ending, which may lead to or be the cause of one of these. If the writer's a cynical bastard it might be a Black Comedy, and writers who are fond of using this type of ending are very likely to have a nihilistic worldview. Tends to result in feelings of Too Bleak, Stopped Caring if the writer isn't really good at it. Often a Sequel Hook. Very frequently a Tear Jerker.

On a brighter side, a villain trying to invoke this trope with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech fails virtually always.

Has nothing to do with Shooting Shaggy's Dog (or for that matter, his other dog). Also has nothing to do with the filming process of the Disney film The Shaggy Dog, or its Remake. Not to be confused with Shoot the Dog, which is a regrettable act that may or may not involve an actual dog (that may or may not be shaggy). May result in a Trauma Conga Line.

See also Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies for a roleplaying equivalent.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

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  • A St John Ambulance advert featured a father undergoing treatment for cancer. The man survives, and his cancer is gone, so he celebrates at a barbecue with his family...only for a piece of burger to get lodged in his throat, and start to choke him. Because no one at the barbecue knows first aid, the cancer survivor chokes to death in front of his horrified family.

    Comic Strips 
  • Happens regularly on Pearls Before Swine in Rat's stories about "Angry Bob". In a typical example, Angry Bob decides to go to a bar to socialize, and quickly strike up a romantic rapport with a beautiful woman. They begin kissing in her car, only for Bob to get caught by the woman's UFC husband and die horrifically.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Bo Burnham gives a tale of a frog that falls subject to this while looking for a beautiful lady frog. Bo even says at the end that the moral of the story is "irrelevant, 'cause we're humans."

Alternative Title(s): Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story


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