Happy Endings – Or Not

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Today’s post:

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Your humble host

Is the ending of your story too predictable?

Put your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. That’s the basis for an interesting story, right? But at some point the rocks stop and the ending comes.

Readers are funny, though. In movies, “Rocky” fans want the SAME ending every time. And before everybody turns their literary noses up, SO DO HARRY POTTER readers. And Stars Wars fans.

Basically, every franchise wants that, in movies or books.

While reading the Harry Potter stuff, did you ever REALLY think Harry would die?

Or that James Bond wouldn’t escape intact?

Or that Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan (or Bruce Willis in just about every movie he makes) etc., wouldn’t get the bad guy?

So, we want what we want. And by we I mean you. And by you I mean the large collective of readers and moviegoers, not necessarily you, except it probably includes you.

The TV show Friends is doing a 2 hour reunion, even though as far as I can tell the show has never gone off the air; it’s been in reruns continually since they stopped making originals ten years ago or whatever. So you can see Joey and Monica and the gang every night on Nick At Night if you want; no need for a reunion. Wanna know how they ended up? You know. Jenifer Aniston is still a megastar and the rest still aren’t. There. No need for a reunion.

But gee, none of them ever died in a car wreck or suffered from depression. There were no A Very Special Episode of Friends where Joey dies of AIDS. Because sitcom, sure, but also because $$$ means give the viewers what they want. (Friends and Scrubs on Nick At Night reruns got me through many a late-night bottle feeding not too many years ago.)

So, too, in many books and movies. Hell, just by knowing there are three or four or six Harry Potter books, you know he doesn’t die in the second one.

But that’s why when a main character dies in one of these books or movies, it’s such a big deal. Harry had one. So did Star Wars. I won’t give you the exact examples in case it’s a spoiler (but trust me, I haven’t seen or read them and I know, so how much of a spoiler can it be, but still), you get the point.

And that is why it is SO tragic of an ending – and far more memorable – when in Dr Zhivago that he has his torrid, heart wrenching love affair with Lara and they cannot be together and then finally they can and she doesn’t know it and he sees her from the trolley and she doesn’t see him and he gets off and chases after her and actually dies of a heart attack in the crowd before she ever turns around! He died with the love of his life twenty feet away and she never knew. He didn’t get to be with her but he almost did! The happy ending was right there and fate snatched it away at the last second. Readers and moviegoers were left teary eyed. Nooooo! He goes to his death not knowing what might have been. She gets away – for eternity? Nooooooo!

I didn’t do it justice there, but you get the idea. Plenty of readers would have LOVED for them to meet back up and live happily ever after. That’s why his death, so close to his goal, is so tragic – and so memorable. It helped make Dr Zhivago a classic for decades. I have to believe it’s still a good story if it has a happy ending, but showing us the candy and then taking it away right before we get to taste it, and doing it in such a masterful way, made it a classic instead. As an author, I’ll take classic any day.

As a reader, too.

An appropriate ending is what every story needs. Yeah, we like happy endings. But we love other endings – when they are appropriate to the story and they work.

It is the occasional curve ball that brings the excitement to the story. Not knowing exactly how it’s gonna go every time is part of what keeps eyes glued to the stories we write.

Readers want that, too.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works

I Can’t Finish My Story! Failure To Launch, a (common) writer nightmare

Your humble host.
Your humble host.

Occasionally a writer reaches out and laments about a writerly problem. Here’s one I received recently that I think is fairly common.

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Dear Dan,

I recently realized that my writing has slowed to a standstill, not because I’m busy, but because I’m terrified to finish.

Help.

Scared Storyteller

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Dear Storyteller,

It’s not uncommon to see the finish line and suddenly become… intimidated.

Truman Capote said finishing a story is like taking your child out in the back yard and shooting it.

Oh yes he did
Oh yes he did

See?

Why is that?

Why do so many writers get so far along and then not finish?

I think the reason(s) is basically simple. First of all, a lot of people get a great idea for a story, but once they get that idea down – Oh, wouldn’t it be neat if the Easter Bunny murdered Santa Claus? So they set up the murder, and the rabbit whacks the fat guy!

And then they’re sitting there thinking… Now what?

Yeah. No idea.

(Recently we discussed ways to find more time to write, HERE

Didn't happen
Awesome dragon hunt? Didn’t happen.

Or a writer decides they’re going to have a big dragon hunt and their critique partner says no dragon cos it doesn’t fit in the world you constructed. And then you’re sitting there saying, okay, no dragon, no dragon hunt… Now what?

And some people just plain old get stuck. They have an idea but they don’t have a story. Big, big, BIG difference. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Ideas – maybe not!

Other writers get stuck in what’s called the mushy middle. They have a beginning: Easter Bunny intends to kill Santa Claus over a long standing feud about candy. They have a great ending: Easter Bunny and Santa reconcile and Santa is not killed.

But they don’t have a middle – known as a big part of the story – and they can’t figure out how to go connect the dots to make it happen. THAT one’s a BIG “now what.”

I'm a pantser. Something will come to me.
I’m a pantser. Something will come to me.

But I believe far away the biggest reason real writers don’t finish a story is: once you get close to the end, you begin to lose your identity.

You have been spending time with these characters. You know them. You look forward to seeing them each day and you wonder what kind of funny things you can have them do or what interesting situations they’re going to get into or what new romance is right around the corner…

Shutting that door and walking away is tragic!

It’s extremely difficult!

And while I think Truman was a little over the top with his infanticide reference, finishing a story – and the fear of what waits on the other side – it is a lot like graduating high school not seeing all your friends anymore, or leaving a fun job where we had a lot of friends and going to a new job we don’t know anybody.

Introvert viewing a new workplace.
Introvert viewing a new workplace.

Graduating college, my world became very different. Bosses expected me to show up every morning and know things. There were no noon classes, it was 8am every day, butts in seats. And within 18 months, I moved across the state to take a different job, so I didn’t know anybody. I struggled for a while.

Finishing your story can be like that. It’s a big change

It’s the unknown, and people are like rightly afraid of that. You knew every day what was going to happen with your characters and now, sadly, that is going to stop.

Personally, I think that’s why a lot of sequels and trilogies get written (even when they shouldn’t). They can’t walk away from the characters, so they don’t. And only a few stories deserve trilogies. A few.

To contrast, the great John Belushi once said no sequels. And he was right, too.

There’s nothing wrong with a trilogy, but most the time one book will do it. Think of movies and think of sequels, and almost never – almost never – is the sequel (or the third or fourth) as good as the first.

The original and different and exciting. It’s usually best if we leave it that way. But…

I DID have that idea about the Santa murder...
I DID have that idea about the Santa murder…

I also believe that your ONE BIG STORY is not the only one great story you’re ever going to have!

Finishing it and setting it aside allows you get on to your next story, which will probably be even better. Do you know how I know? Because I was in the same boat. I was finishing a story and I was scared to death of what was gonna happen. I was rushing to finish because I was so excited about my story, and then it was done – and I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I enjoyed a few days off, basking in the glow, knowing I’d written my best work ever, and then I became borderline depressed. Well, depressed for me, anyway, which means I was sad for a few hours. (Okay, maybe the better part of a day.)

So I get it.

And then I went on to write what most people regard as my best work ever.

Shameless plug for upcoming book.
Shameless plug for upcoming book.

And then I stretched those writer muscles and wrote another one. It’s pretty darned good, too. It has flashes of brilliance, honest.

You can do that, too.

Writers, you are NOT alone. You may be the only one typing the words of your story, but there are plenty of helpful hands patting you in the back or helping you back on your feet – or feet kicking you in the butt if necessary.

Finish your book! The NEXT great story awaits, and you can’t write that one while you’re fiddling around with this one!

Don’t be afraid to ask a friend for a suggestion. I’ve done that, on the giving end AND the receiving end. Collaborate. Ask for ideas. As soon as you hear the shitty stuff your friends come up with, an amazing idea will pop into your head.

Thumbs Up
Novellas rock!

You have short stories and blog posts you’ve wanted to do, and that will fill the void.

And then one day a pretty girl will sit across from you on a train and you’ll say, Hmm… and an amazing story will start flowing through your fingers into the keyboard.

You can do it. Writing takes a brave spirit. So does finishing.

Be brave. Your next great story is in there dying to get out. Let it.

What are some of YOUR tips to finish or experiences near the finish line?

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Your humble host.
Your humble host.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.