Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Single Traveler and Diverging Roads

posted by Jo Lewis-Robertson

When I first began writing narration, as opposed to the analytical writing we teachers foist on our students, I wasn’t sure if I were in love with writing fiction, or in love with the
idea of being a fiction writer.

Surprise! I adore the narrative writing process. I like everything about it: the drafting, the dump (what I call my first raw draft), the rewriting, and even the revising. Conversely, I abhor almost anything that takes me away from it.

But there’s one thing I don’t like: the decision-making. The stories and voices and characters that run through my writer’s head leave behind a hefty dose of schizophrenia.

My stories feel like Robert Frost’s “roads that diverge[d] in a yellow wood.” I want to take both paths, but “be[ing] one traveler,” can only follow a single trail. Each decision on the turn of a word or phrase, a single paragraph or minute description, every nuance of verb or adjective can steer my characters into an entirely new world with different texture and significance.

Did you know that Charles Dickens wrote two endings to Great Expectations? The novel was serialized in a magazine, a common practice at that time. When Dickens wrote the ending most often anthologized, he kept Pip and Estelle apart; they have that poignant meeting at the end and walk away from one another – forever. But his contemporary readers were so outraged with it that Dickens wrote an alternative ending. One where there’s a happily ever after, or at least the hope of a HEA.

It’s an awesome and frightening sensation, this power writers have to alter what essentially is fiction, a made-up and (wo)man-constructed falsity, but is so often stark reality in the minds of readers.

Sometimes you know that poetic justice has to prevail and the ending is literarily perfect, but still you oh-so-wish it were different. That Scarlett got Rhett back (and maybe she did!), that Heathcliff found his “soul,” that Juliet woke up before Romeo took the damned poison!

What about you? What book, story, or movie ending would you change if you could? Which ones were perfect just as written or filmed?


Keira Soleore said...

Jo, I laughed over the tale where austere Dickens had to bend over backwards for readers' opinions. Not much has changed in the intervening years, has it?

Christine Wells said...

I remember wanting Scarlett to get Rhett when I first read the book, but I don't think GWTW would be quite the classic it is today if she had. She really didn't deserve him, did she? And it was almost better knowing even though she was alone she was such a survivor, she'd make it through. A happy ending to Casablanca? I don't know.

I tend to feel like a story is what it is and too much meddling wrecks it, especially if the meddling doesn't originate with the author or an editor who is very attuned to the author's vision. Thank goodness we don't have the equivalent of test screenings with books. That dreadful ending they did for the recent Pride & Prejudice for the US market speaks volumes against that practice!

Caren Crane said...

Amen, Christine! I didn't much enjoy the new P&P, being a diehard fan of the A&E version (and the book!).

There are some stories that simply cannot end with the hero & heroine together and everything tied up with a bow. One of my favorite movies like this is "Object Of My Affection" with Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. He is gay, she is pregnant by a guy who is all wrong for her. They are roommates and she falls in love with him. But he is gay! It just can't work out the way she wants--and it doesn't. But the ending is perfect as it is and happy for everyone. Perfection!

Caren Crane said...

Okay, I hate to bring this one up, because people have such different opinions, BUT if you read the book "The Horse Whisperer", you will know what I mean.

In the book, the heroine has a perfectly nice husband. They've been married a long time and aren't coping with their daughter's accident well, but he is a stand-up guy. She has a full-blown affair with the horse whisperer guy. He dies. She is pregnant with his child. She goes back to her nice-guy husband, who takes her back and raises the child as his own. I had a lot of problems with that book, but the ending made it all the more horrible!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Well since we're talking about endings we don't like, the new Pirates movie has a bit of a controversial ending. I liked the last scene after the credits, but my friend, said it was too much of a literary ending for her. (Can you tell I'm trying not to give a spoiler here?)

DMacMeans said...

My all time hated movie ending was that Message in a Bottle thing with Kevin Costner. The whole movie builds up the romance nicely and then he dies at sea!!! Someone clearly doesn't understand the concept of romance.

FilmPhan said...

I wish "Dear Frankie" would have ended differently. I kept thinking that he was going to walk onto the dock with them and sit with them. When the credits rolled on I was like, "That's it?" And yes the new "Priates" movie ending wasn't my favorite.

Caren Crane said...

Suz and filmphan, apparently the production company for Pirates said that Will's curse was broken and that the "green flash" in the extra scene after the credits was a sign of that. They also said the scene that would have let us know for sure was cut. Apparently, if you study the movie closely, the "green flash" thing is a big sign. Unfortunately, I only saw it once and missed the "after" scene completely. Hey, a bladder can only take so much abuse!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Well, then, I'm thinking I like the ending even more. My friend thought it meant that Will only got to come back for one day every ten years. I figured that was better than never seeing him again. But lifting the curse...even better!

Anna Campbell said...

Helllooooooo! Back and VERY jetlagged but had to drop in. Loved catching up with the Banditas and friends (Keira!) in Dallas. Wish you guys lived closer.

Jo, great post. Actually, an ending I hate is Tess of the Droobervilles. I'm not a Hardy fan and he just seems to love gratuitous suffering. Didn't like Message in a Bottle either. Felt I'd been gypped as there was no real catharsis in him dying at sea. I think GWTW needed the ending it had. An ending that is just perfect and not happy is A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James which I did in uni. Haven't seen the film but the tone of that last chapter is just breathtakingly right. I guess that's why it's a classic, huh?

Aunty Cindy said...

WELCOME HOME, Keira and Foanna!!!
So glad to have you back in the lair!

To those who don't know, Jo is actually recuperating from surgery today so I put up her post in the wee hours of the morning. I'll be sure and let everyone know how she is doing the moment I hear.

Caren, thanx for the insight into the ending of POTC3. I stayed til the bitter end (bursting bladder and all) and was left with the same impression as Suz's friend (that Elizabeth was gonna be one HORNY lil devil what with only seeing Will once every ten years)!

Filmphan, "Dear Frankie" is one of my FAVE FILMS OF ALL TIME! And I liked the ending because (like GWTW)I thought it left things WIDE OPEN for him to come back to Frankie and his mum. And in my romantic lil bandita heart HE WILL! The part I LOVED was the letter from Frankie where he revealed that he knew all along what was going on! SMART KID!

As for books that do NOT end HEA... Aunty solves that problem by reading the ending FIRST! *GASP* Yes, you heard correctly! I read the first few pages and the last few pages and if I don't like either, it goes back on the shelf!


Keira Soleore said...

Thanks, AC and Anna!! It sure feels like home here, even though I don't belong (not yet anyways).

I liked the before-credit ending of PotC3. Gave my poor Jack Sparrow a chance.

Christine, gosh yes. What if authors had to have usability testing and beta testing for their books like software? Then where would we be? Perhaps the serialization in some sense gives the reader more control over the story, but in some sense also makes a more marketable author out of the writer.

MaryF said...

I love Dear Frankie, too!!!

Caren, if you thought the movie Horse Whisperer was bad, you should have read the book - the movie was downright cheerful after that!!! Thanks for the Pirates clarification!

When I saw Message in a Bottle I wanted to throw something at the TV - TERRIBLE ending!

I don't know if anyone read Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen, but that was a book whose ending I wanted changed! I actually rewrote it to please myself!