Want vs Need in Story – Endings

3 May

I got excited when I learned this year’s Rainbow Stage production includes Little Shop of Horrors. I hadn’t seen the film version since Jr. High, but I remembered it enough to decide quickly that I am going, regardless of who is coming with. I wiki’d the film – and now I’m curious – is this stage production going with the original ending, or are they going for something that tests positive with audiences?

This isn’t the only series that the ending changes from the original: I am Legend, The Lord of the Rings, The Witches; to name a few.

This isn’t so much about the necessary adaptation from the various mediums, because what I can take pages describing can be shown relatively quickly on a screen. I’ve seen things work in live theater that don’t carry over so well into the movie. And, if I’m writing a serialized story with monthly installments, it’s probably going to fit into a series better than Hollywood’s three-act system (or theater’s two-act). Personally, I think that you can be faithful to the original in keeping with the spirit.

That being said, I find more than any other aspect, that endings are one of the most important aspects of fiction, so I’m way more upset if the adaptation changes it dramatically, without justification. I think sometimes it is a matter of respecting the audience, namely that if you’re making a movie with a huge budget, you expect a return on the investment, so it’s best to play it safe with the formula that tests well. It’s the reason The Hero’s Journey is seen again and again in fiction.

This doesn’t always sit well with those of us who like our expectations teased. There are certain sub genres of science fiction revels in the And I must Scream, whereas historically, Romances can end tragically, but usually on a high note of hope, such as Tristan and Isolde or the Arthurian Romance of Arthur, Gwenevere, and Lancelot – they may be torn asunder in life, but together in death/exile, etc. Those who don’t read much fantasy assume it’s all wish-fulfillment, failing to recognize fantasy’s long history, and I need only point to the cautionary Brother’s Grimm originals to prove my point, let alone The Epic of Gilgamesh or The Odyssey.

This isn’t to say that all science fiction ends with self-loathing and Nietzsche, but I have different expectations putting on an episode of Murdoch Mysteries as compared to Heartland. In giving the viewer what we want, usually, good prevails or at least solves the problem at hand, but the ending has to fit the tone of the story more than the beginning or middle. If it doesn’t answer a question or satisfy me, even the most casual “I just want the good guys to win” audience member would probably lose interest in the next part. Why is the ending so important?

Even when we have stories of Grey vs. Grey morality, audiences usually pick a side. We might even be with a villain protagonist, who we might subconsciously want to get caught, but at the same time, we know his getting caught ends the romp, so we don’t. We’re conflicted. How long can he pull this off, exactly?

But some of our most well-loved stories end in a loss. The Empire Strikes Back, seen probably as the ‘best’ of the movies by most, ends with Han potentially being lost forever, Luke losing his hand and the rebellion is in shambles, with Luke reeling from a forty-year-spoiler. I wouldn’t call this a win for our heroes– but the story still ends with hope. If this was the first installment of Star Wars, I think it’s safe to say that it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as well-received by the audiences – but there was pretty much a guarantee to a third installment at that time, so maybe it wasn’t as big of a challenge to the audience as I’m making it out to be.

So what are some of the best endings you’ve read? And are there stories that you thought were fantastic, but couldn’t stand the ending?

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2 Responses to “Want vs Need in Story – Endings”

  1. Lindsay Kitson May 5, 2017 at 1:33 am #

    File this under unpopular opinions: I was disappointed with the ending of the Harry Potter series for a couple of reasons. I felt there was foreshadowing that there was something going on with Hermione’s cat, that was never followed through on, but that was the minor thing.

    The thing that I was most disappointed in was the whole mention halfway through the series that there had been some question as to which child was foretold to defeat Voldemort, as Harry and Neville were born very close to the same time, and the only reason they decided it was Harry was because Harry was the one Voldemort went after. I expected the ending to follow through on that and have a twist at the end be that Voldemort guessed wrong and him guessing wrong and it turning out to be Neville was part of his undoing. But instead it was more kind of predictable blah at the end.

    • ltgetty May 9, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

      I concur about Neville, actually. Sorry for the delayed response, been under the weather for the past few days.

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