Thwarted Desires

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?




Filed under General Writing

3 responses to “Thwarted Desires

  1. Fishy

    Just a note – potential vague spoilers to follow.

    One of the first things to come to mind is the movie “Burn After Reading.” The first half to three quarters of the movie was great – funny, intelligent, and interesting. Then someone gets shot in the head right in front of my eyes, and the whole movie goes to crap. Lots of good people violently die for no good reason, and only a couple of the less likeable main characters survive, only to have the crime investigators at the end of the movie say something like, “This made no sense at all.” Gee, ya think??!

    Philip Pullman also needs some mention here, both for the unexpected death of a character in the second “Sally Lockhart” book, and the end of “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Whether or not he had good intentions, both of these instances were so devastating and unfair to the reader that I almost wanted to write to him and ask why he bothered to write these books at all.

    The unexpected death of the character in Sally Lockhart speaks for itself. Hardly anyone enjoys it when a good character dies. But at the end of “The Amber Spyglass,” these characters who have apparently been meant to find each other and spent the entire series working toward this common goal, are separated forever and will never see each other again. Pullman tries to explain that the worlds will end unless they’re separated forever, but good grief, if the whole depressing series was building to this, couldn’t we have just avoided the whole thing in the first place?

  2. rachelhestondavis

    Fishy, yes! Phillip Pullman absolutely needs to be called out on the carpet for his abysmal choices while authoring the second Sally Lockhart book. Not to mention that in the third book, Sally randomly falls in love with a character whom readers don’t really care about at all. We gave up Fred for this?!

    But I think the gold medal winner for disregarding audience’s feelings goes to Russel T. Davies. Hands. Down.

  3. Hil

    I second RTD. He tries to cover up his lack of talent with distracting us with melodrama, runny mascara, ham fisted Jesus mythology foisted upon the Doctor (and totally missing the mark, heathen that he is), and Character!Death (usually coming after Character!Abuse/Assassination). Thank God he never got his paws on Romana. And that is all I’ll say on the matter.

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