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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

So Much For My Unhappy Ending

Way back when I formulated the idea for my current WIP I decided it wouldn’t be pretty. This, I told myself, would show the cruelties of life and demonstrate how people walk out on you when they really shouldn’t. It would show human weakness and be honest. So much for my big ideas.

35,000 words in and my intended ending is gnawing at me. I like my protagonist. I’ve spent a lot of time in her company now and the thought of leaving her shattered and alone doesn’t fill me with the same cruel glee it did a few weeks ago. I’ve even formulated an alternate ending, where Danni gets some hope in the final chapter. But, unfortunately, I’m still not sure if it’s the right course to take.

The movie Sweet Charity starring Shirley MacLaine is a good example of alternate endings in practice. The DVD contains one and it has been known for television broadcasters to show it in place of the dismal note the movie actually ends on. In the unhappy ending taxi-dancer Charity is deserted by her fiancĂ© and can’t bring herself to return to her friends who think she’s now off living some wonderful life. She walks back into New York, alone and about to start a new life with all her dreams left in tatters.

No, it’s not the most optimistic finale on the planet but it is a tearjerker and, more than that, it’s true to the character. Charity Hope Valentine is a perennial loser. A film that started with her being robbed of her savings and tossed into a river by her boyfriend couldn’t possibly end with her settling down with a good quiet man like Oscar. Real life just isn’t like that. In reality, Charity is tainted by a past she can do nothing about and that’s ultimately what drives Oscar to flee from her. It’s heartbreaking, it’s painful… but it’s true.

The alternate ending is all too sugary. After abandoning her, Oscar abruptly has a change of heart and decides that he can marry her after all. Even just written down that feels wrong! It defiles character development; it abolishes the grasp on reality the film has striven to proffer. After watching it only once I decided I wouldn’t watch it again: Charity’s story ends with her walking back into the city and endeavouring to start again. However much that ending disappointed me the first time I saw it I can’t stomach the alternative.

So where does that leave Danni?

Does my hopeful ending demean her journey? Does it make the challenges she’s had to face any less important because she ends up with a chance of happiness? I don’t know yet. I do know that my first draft will probably have the sweet scene that’s been plaguing me with Danni getting a surprise visitor as she hides away from the world. It needs to be written, if only to get the whispering voice out of my head.

After that, who knows? Pain and devastation all the way perhaps.

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