Monday, November 14, 2005

One Ending

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.


Robin Cynclair said...

Hmmm, Ron, sure gives me something to think about. I'm thinking about the movie PAY IT, the story is unfolded in a way that compels the viewer (or reader to twist it into writing) into these characters lives...we care about them, love them, want it all to be okay. Then the writer comes along and jacks it all up in the last 15 minutes of the movie. Why? It's definitely a surprise twist ending. Did I like it? Nope. Could it have ended another way, more satisfying to the viewer/reader? Yep. But if they had, which I sure wish they had, would the viewer/reader cared as much about the movie overall? Would we still be talking about it years after the movie has gone to DVDland? Hmmm.

Another point...Dee Henderson's OMALLEY CHRONICLES. Those books inspired me to where I wanted to write more action-driven stories. I loved them. Until I got to the last book, which I ended up hurling against the wall. The author had two ways to go at the end....either way was plausable, totally believable, but one was uplifting and the other depressing. Sure, the uplifting version wasn't necessarily the way of the majority time of the world, but it WAS believable as miracles ARE happening in the world. So, how did I, as the reader feel? Cheated. Why did the author chose that particular ending for her series? I have not a clue--one day I'd love to ask her! I don't know.

But you've raised some very interesting points, Ron. I'll have something to chew on for a while now! :)

Gina Holmes said...

Hmmm. Not sure I agree with one ending no alternative. I think there is more than one ending that would satisfy for every piece of work. I've never worked with a spread sheet. Though I do know when my book begins how it will end. Sorta. I know boy will get girl, the bad guy is defeated and even how the theme will play out.

I don't know. I'll have to give that spread sheet thingy a try some day. Maybe on the 3rd book? We'll see.

That is odd, by the way, that there were no vampire therapists. Barbaric when you think of it. Now, see, my ending would be that this depressed vampire finds his inner pain, diagnosis himself then becomes the first vampire psycologist, and the killing stops because, the anger has been analyzed and buried. I think I need a nap.