When director Steven Spielberg first watched the recent movie hit “Paranormal Activity” (at that time just a low-budget indie film), he found it successfully scary and wrought with frightening tension. He had only one complaint; change the ending.
Though the film succeeded in scripting, acting, tension and creativity, the ending alone could have been enough to sink it. Why? Because the original ending essentially took all ninety minutes of terrifying build-up and then diffused it, slowly and politely. For ninety minutes we watched moving objects, heard footsteps and breathing, saw characters forcibly dragged out of bed and down the hall–only to have the movie end with hinted-at off screen violence, one character sitting still for a long, long time, and then her quick death at the hand of a confused policeman.
We’ve all watched our read such stories. We reach the end of an otherwise fascinating plot and ask ourselves “What went wrong there?”
Authors make the same mistakes as directors. I recently finished a book which had one of those characters that you love to hate. Readers spent the book wishing for this character to be revealed as the two-faced insincere user that he was, only to see him die before the secrets of his true nature could be revealed. The plot offered some fairly good reasons why it was best that the other characters never find out, but we are left wondering, “What about me? I’m the reader–don’t my feelings count for anything? You spent an inordinate amount of time building me up for something you absolutely failed to deliver on.”
It’s frightening to contemplate all the ways in which your plot could fail to deliver. As a writer, I find the best way to avoid these mistakes is to learn about them from other books.
I’ve shared my two most recent ending pet peeves. How about yours? What books or movies frustrated your expectancies so thoroughly that it left you ruffled at the author/director?