And Now for The End of Our Story

The EndEvery story ever written has two things in common–a beginning and an ending, and it’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines that impact our readers.

Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One that ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. And, most often, that’s what they get. In my genre, romance, it’s pretty simple. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome, and once they’re resolved everyone lives happily ever after. THE END. But then again, some of the most well-loved and compelling romance stories ever written didn’t end with the couple living happily ever after. Who could forget Gone with the Wind? After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett the whole time, but when she finally tells him his response is, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” He walks away and slams the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending left us wanting more, and I believe this is way, after more than seventy years, the book and the movie still have a following.

By the way, I don’t know if this is actual fact or urban legend, but I recall hearing somewhere that Margaret Mitchell wrote the ending first, and then went back to write the rest of the story. Some authors do write their endings first, and it’s perfectly okay to do so.

Another famous ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually wasn’t based on a novel, but on a play called, Everyone Comes to Rick’s. It too is a love story with a twist. Boy meets girl. Girl ditches boy. Boy meets girl a second time, only now she’s brought her husband along. So, along with some unforgettable dialog, (“Of all the gin joints in all the places in the world, she had to walk into mine.”), we all root for Rick to get Ilsa back. Instead the story ends with him putting her on the plane, along with her husband, and sending them away for good. Then the final scene ends with Rick walking away with Louis Renualt and saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Once again, I’ve heard rumor that there were two endings shot for Casa Blanca. In the alternate ending Ilsa stays behind with Rick, but it was decided that the other ending would have a stronger impact on the audience. They were right. Seventy years later, Casa Blanca remains one of the best-loved films of all time. 

Sometimes stories aren’t about happy endings. Sometimes they’re about doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing isn’t so easy to do. The same can be said of real life.

GM

 

Knowing When to Quit, Part 2

galaxy
Photo by CanStockPhoto.com

In my earlier post about how to avoid overworking your story I talked about redundancy. This time around I’ll discuss another way to overwork a story — and that is by creating over the top scenarios or plot lines, which don’t connect well with the earlier story. This can be especially problematic when you’re writing a series. There comes a point when your story, even if it’s a series, has to end. Otherwise it may become absurd or even bizarre.

I’ll give you a good example: Star Trek.

I grew up watching the original Star Trek. The characters, human and alien, were so believable, but by the third season the series just wasn’t that good, and the ridiculous story lines for some of the episodes hurt the integrity of the series as a whole. The network, NBC, then cancelled the show. It went into syndication where its following grew. The movies came along about ten years later. The original characters were back, but they were older and they’d changed over time, which kept them interesting. After that came Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. This created a plethora of interesting new characters and a lot of potential for exciting new stories. Next came a series of movies with the Next Generation cast.

Sadly, it was all lost, at least for me, when they started making movies with younger versions of the original characters. Prequels can also be problematic, but when I saw the first prequel I was very disappointed. It took place in a “parallel universe,” so much of the back-story, established in the original series, was gone. It was too confusing, and it certainly wasn’t the Star Trek I’d known and loved for decades. Other Star Trek movies have since followed, again set in this, “past parallel universe,” but I’ve  decided to save my money and skip them. I won’t even bother watching them on Netflix.

This is what happens when you run out of ideas. You lose the integrity of your story, and you may even lose your following as well. As storytellers, the two hardest words for us to write are, “THE END,” but write them we must. Otherwise, in the words of my college painting professor, you’ll turn your work into mud.

GM

 

 

Knowing When to Quit, Part One

[ File # csp6237361, License # 2787087 ] Licensed through http://www.canstockphoto.com in accordance with the End User License Agreement (http://www.canstockphoto.com/legal.php) (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / tomasfoto
(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / tomasfoto
Back in my college days, when I was majoring in art, one of my painting professors made a profound statement that I’ll always remember. He said, “Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done, otherwise he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”

It’s extremely difficult artists to look at their work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we finally realize we’ve overworked something it may be too late to salvage it.

Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One of the biggest, and most obvious, would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.

As I was nearing the end of the story I’d resolved the main conflict, but as I tied up the loose ends one of the antagonists threatened to go after my protagonist for a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. Unfortunately, in this instance, the conflict would have been too similar to the conflict in the first book, which would have made the sequel redundant. All I could have done was rehash the same story. How boring. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I decided to write a definitive ending and leave my novel as a stand alone book. I did it by killing off the antagonist and ending the feud once and for all.

Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, then go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it probably means your story has become too redundant.

GM