Is the glass half empty or half full? Does it even matter because . . .
We don’t know what’s in the glass? Would you drink what’s left regardless? Could be poison. Could be the elixir of life.
This morning I woke to a comment on one of my Medium posts of: “Report on good news for once.”
I’ve been thinking about it and it echoed a conversation my wife and I had the previous evening. The ending of the movie Life was such a bummer. Very negative. A while back we’d watched Get Out. In the director’s cut, there was another ending. A bleaker one. And we both felt that the ending is what totally made Get Out. With the bleak ending, that movie wouldn’t have done anywhere near as well. The ending put it way over the top. Loved the ending!
Jordan Peele talked about the editing process of the movie. And that’s where that movie was made. Because he changed the ending that he’d originally written.
I read an interview with the director of Life and he talks about insisting on the ending as it was written and wanting it to be ‘noir’. Essentially he wanted to be ‘different’. And it was. Just not in a good way. People didn’t respond to it. Word of mouth was like the ending: negative.
There is a difference between being ‘smart’ and being ‘clever’.
I was wrong, Jenny Crusie was right. When we wrote together I’d say the opening of the book is the most important part. And she said the ending was. My take was that the opening got people into the book. But that’s like saying the opening of a movie is the most important part. Well, duh, they’re in the theater already if they see the opening. What you have to focus on is what they’re feeling leaving the theater.
I am a product of negativity and also some tragedy in my adult life. That partially explains my instinctual negativity. Heck, I’ve got two books titled: Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure. I’ve written three survival manuals. The first place my wife and I traveled to was Little Big Horn. See a pattern?
The ending of my first book, Eyes of the Hammer, was negative. It was a mirror of another book that came later, Clear and Present Danger. Same topic — Special Forces heading to Colombia and taking on drug traffickers. In Clancy’s book, besides a much smarter and better title, they win. And based on my experiences in Special Forces and also my innate negativity and the overall reality, in my book, at the end, the hero, Dave Riley, is walking the streets of da Bronx, my hometown, and sees a drug deal. The point was realistic. We will never win the war on drugs with guns.
But. Are you a sell out to have a positive ending? Note I say positive, not necessarily happy.
It depends on your goal. And I know I have not examined what my goals are in terms of emotion as deeply as I should. I should know better. Goals are the first thing I teach in Write it Forward.
The original screenplay for Pretty Woman was titled Five Thousand Dollars. At the end he goes back to NY and she goes back to the street. Would it have done as well? How would people have felt about that original ending? What would they have said about that movie? I ask those questions in one of my presentations. But I realize that’s not the real question. Would it have entertained as well? We are, after all, in the entertainment business. Robert Altman poked fun at that change in the ending in The Player with the movie inside the movie.
When I was binging The Leftovers, I asked my wife if this was going to have a “payoff” at the end? Obviously I had some expectation. As a writer, I have to grant my readers that they have expectations.
Either we have free will or we don’t. If we do, then deciding on positive or negative is a choice regardless of predilection. One can be a positive realist or a negative realist.
Given that choice, I’m going to start making different ones. In fact, given my freedom as an indie author, I can actually change things I did years ago. I’m going to change the ending of Eyes of the Hammer. Not the core plot, or even much. I always say you can change a book entirely with one sentence. So with a couple of sentences, that ending will change in tone, not in substance. My next book, Valentines Day (Time Patrol) is out with beta readers right now and won’t come out until 24 July. Plenty of time. I know what I need to do to adjust that ending and make it more positive.
That’s a choice and I choose differently. I will drink from the half empty glass and assume it’s the elixir. And that it will fill back up.
Originally published at bobmayer.com on June 22, 2017.