All's Well That Ends Well... Or Is It?

Unhappy Endings (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

I've been thinking about endings for the past month or so.  More specifically, I've been thinking about the types of endings I find most satisfying. I'd always assumed that I liked happy endings best (provided they didn't just fall into the main character's laps, all tied up in a tidy red bow) ...but now I'm not so sure.

All this pondering started with some feedback I'd received from an agent earlier in March. As I mentioned in the post I wrote at the time, the overall note was very positive but the one thing that ultimately resulted in a "no" for her was that she felt that the story might have too much of a "Hollywood-ending." Given that this was based on a partial submission and a 2-page synopsis my initial thoughts were twofold: #1) Was my synopsis perhaps oversimplifying things too much and not properly conveying all the twists and turns and hardships that lead to my ending? and/or #2) was my plotline actually too convenient? I wouldn't have thought so before, but now I wasn't so sure.

Then I watched the movie Arrival, and it blew my mind. 

For those of you who have not watched Arrival: you are doing yourself a grave disservice. Go and see that movie now. You can rent it on YouTube if you need to, that's what I did, just follow the link above. I won't spoil things for you here, but I will say that at the end of the movie I just sat there in awe. (There may well have been tears involved.) It wasn't so much that the overarching external plot had moved me, but the emotional arc had sucker punched me in the throat. It was a simple twist but I just wasn't expecting the way things were wrapped up in the end and the discord and the somberness that I felt while I digested what I had witnessed made the story stay with me well after the final credits had scrolled by. 

Things were further reinforced for me when I re-watched Rogue One. Now for any Star Wars fans out there, I can only assume that if you haven't seen Rogue One yet, you never intend to. But just in case: **SPOILER ALERT**

It's funny to speak about spoilers for a movie whose main beats were detailed in the opening minutes of a movie released back in 1977, but while we knew that the heroes would ultimately succeed in retrieving the death star plans, we didn't necessarily expect that every single last one of them would be killed off, one after the other, in order to accomplish that goal. But this was a war movie (if ever Star Wars had a war movie) and it would have felt like a cop-out if this particular story had ended any other way.

So if these two movies have taught me anything, it's that there can be poetry and poignancy in not-so-perfect endings. I have some ideas of how I'm going to shift things slightly with my book. The change will strengthen an existing sub-plot and will hopefully create a more satisfying and more interesting character arc overall.  

As many are aware, the original ending for Rogue One was very different than what was ultimately released in theaters. Interestingly, the blu-ray edition of the film doesn't contain the original (happier) ending in the bonus features. And I'm actually glad they didn't release those scenes... The ending they have now is perfectly imperfect.

Maybe it's not about the happy ending... Maybe it's about the story



two Responses to "All's Well That Ends Well... Or Is It?"

  1. Jeff
    Jeff on 24-04-’17 14:41

    I’m (very) often disappointed in books’ endings, when everything is tied up all nice and perfect. In fact, I can count on one hand (ok, MAYBE just barely crossing the boundary into two-territory) the number of times I’ve felt like the ending of a particular book was what I was hoping it would be (not in terms of content – no one wants to know exactly what’s coming – but, just the overall tone). I felt like the Wheel of Time series, which I was terrified would end in a far-too-fairytailesque way, managed to just pull it off (Thanks Brandon Sanderson! That could’ve gone so much worse :) ). Probably my favourite ending ever was that of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It was decidedly not a happy ending, and the book would have suffered immensely, had it been one. Surprising, devastating, profound, but NOT happy. Not unlike Rogue One, really.

    Another great post. Thanks! Can’t wait to read the book!

  2. A. Lee Ripley
    A. Lee Ripley on 15-05-’17 21:43

    Thanks, Jeff! I think I need to go read The Elegance of the Hedgehog! :)

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