Narratives, in All Shapes and Sizes
I like stories in any form. Movies, TV shows, short stories, novels, graphic novels, mini-series. I enjoy being entertained and made to think. I also find that reading and watching anything can help a writer learn. I learned a special lesson from two movies Watchmen and District 9: the ending can either sour or invigorate an entire story.
The Watchmen and Watchmen
Before I start into how I learned the souring factor of an ending, let me first explain that my first introduction to this narrative was the most awesome trailer ever made. I’m talking about the trailer with the Smashing Pumpkins rewrite, The Beginning is the End is the Beginning. My reaction was high-peaking interest. The song and cut of the film for this trailer had the perfect effect: an epic story was about to be told.
Only the Greatest Trailer Ever Made
I immediately went to my public library and checked out The Watchmen graphic novel. I devoured it and loved it. The Watchmen is deep, entertaining, the characters are rich and interesting, and the plot was exciting and cohesive. Then I went to see the move which I was enjoying a great deal, until . . .
The Bad Ending
Some people have disagreed with me on this idea, but I felt disappointment by the ending of the movie. The change of the major dramatic answer to the mystery felt wrong and illogical. The movie villain’s answer to the approaching war felt like a stopgap, something that would only work for a year at most. Whereas, the ending of the graphic novel felt like an answer, that while weird, that would fix the tensions between the two super powers. This ending was also set up in the graphic novel. But the point isn’t that I didn’t like the change, not at all. The point is that the ending didn’t make sense and didn’t resolve the major dramatic question of the film, so I was let down. I have a hard time sitting through that movie for further entertainment because I remember the disappointment is coming. The Watchmen isn’t the only narrative I was enjoying until the climax; others include the mini-series Tin Man (worth watching for the second installment, but the ending doesn’t satisfy), Heroes Season 1 (oh, how much I loved that first season, but again that last bite was soured), The Legend of Korra Season 1 (not long enough and cannot compare to the end of Avatar: the Last Airbender—talk about epic!), and for the book lovers, My Sister’s Keeper (yeah, that makes so much sense, you tear-jerking asshole of a story).
The Other Side of the Coin
Less examples exist of the opposite of the ending making or breaking a story, but I can think of two major examples off the top of my head: District 9 and 3:10 to Yuma (the remake with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe). I’m a big fan of Christian Bale (as an artistic actor, not as a hottie) and sci-fi, so I was interested in both these movies from the get go. With both these movies, I got so bored about halfway through that I thought I could use my time in better ways, like doing the dishes. So I turned the movie off and moved on with my life. A while later, I gave both these movies a second chance. Boy, was I not disappointed! Both of these movies have endings that leave an audience member loving the whole movie. In both cases, the movie is slow in the beginning. They are building tension if you pay attention and setting up something meaningful and exciting. Without the slow build, the end doesn’t have contrast or foundation to be as great as it is. It wasn’t until I watched District 9 that I tied together the evidence that supported the importance of the ending. It can either be like a joke without a punchline, sort of like a good meal destroyed by a hair found after most of the plate is clear, or—and this is more rare—it can be a like a theme park ride that goes smooth and slow until the big, splashy drop at the end.
So . . .
As a writer, don’t say you are finished if your ending is truly satisfying, and don’t confuse sentimentality (My Sister’s Keeper) or sensationalism (any average blockbuster action film; coughMichaelBaycough) as a replacement for meaning and entertainment. A poor beginning may kill a story; a poor ending will kill a story. A good beginning may make a story; a good ending will make a story.