Okay, I’ll attempt to get back into Robert McKee’s “Story” on my bloggin’ site. I’m up to “The Substance of Story.” If you haven’t read McKee’s book yet, he does a wonderful job of putting his main points in large bold letters and as separate headers. It makes it easy to find when you want to come back to it. So today’s header topic is “A STORY must build to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.”
Everyone resounds with a mighty “No Duh!” But it’s harder than it looks. I think, for me, it may be the hardest part. I can plot and put in lovely twists and turns, but when the final sentence falls onto the page, can I truly say that was the only way for this story to end?
Since McKee is focusing on screenwriting, he uses “Interview With a Vampire” as an example. Now, I know and you know that Anne Rice did a better job of explaining the inner turmoil that her character was undergoing, but Hollywood blew it. Brad Pitt plays Louis, a suicidal Frenchman in the 18th century who gets fanged by Tom Cruise (I think the idea was for every woman in America to long to become a vampire). Well, poor Louis suddenly doesn’t like having to kill people. He’s a depressed vampire. Oddly, there are no vampire therapists in the 18th century, though I’m sure a walk through New York’s theatre district will conjure up three or four.
Okay, so Louis is trapped as a vampire. He was suicidal as a mortal, and he’s even more depressed now. Yet, 200 years later, he’s still a blood sucker. The audience, in the meantime, is wondering why he just doesn’t do a little sunbathing without his SPF 40. So, our alternate ending, which the audience wrote for us, was barbeque vamp, end of story.
Do you see the cardinal sin, here? We have to be honest in judging our own manuscripts. Was there an easier way out? Could my hero have said “Screw it” on page two and walked off to catch a matinee with a much better plot than my novel?
For this reason, among others, is why I’m becoming a big fan of step-sheets or, at least, a plot summary on a spreadsheet. There’s nothing like writing 80,000 words and realizing it just don’t work. My SOP (Seat of the Pants) friends will give me attitude about this, but I just don’t think it can be done. If a novel is going to have any depth at all, there has to be planning. I don’t mean you have to describe the way the setting sun glints off the hero’s Ruger in your step sheet, but do jot down that said hero is pointing his Ruger at Mr. Villain at the Plaza Hotel in room 318 (where, by the way, the sun won’t be glinting off of it).
The moral of the STORY is: ONE ENDING, no alternatives. Readers are smart people, and they will re-write your ending for you if they think it’s necessary.