Beginnings and Endings

I work full-time so writing is something I need to fit around my day job which is a smidge on the challenging side. I’ve said before that my main sacrifice to allow time to write is that I watch very little television. I spend my evenings at my Mac, catching up on social media and editing my latest novel rather than catching up with the residents of Coronation Street or Albert Square.

As we’ve had a long bank holiday weekend and I managed to tag another couple of days holiday on before that, I have given myself some evening time off writing and have watched films with hubby on three consecutive nights.

Friday night was his choice: Interstellar. This 2014 release stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hatthaway, and is set on a futuristic dying earth. The protagonists are on a space mission to find an alternative inhabitable planet. I’ll hold my hands up and say my first preference is always for a romcom, but I’m not averse to a bit of drama (my all-time favourite film is actually ‘The Shawshank Redemption’) and I don’t mind the odd sci-fi either so I was reasonably pleased with hubby’s choice. Until I watched it. But more on that shortly.

Saturday’s film was my choice. When discussing what else had been on offer when hubby bought Interstellar, I’d asked him if he’d spotted 2014 release ‘Gone Girl’. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, I’d seen this trailered last year when I went on a rare trip to the cinema and (as trailers frequently make out) it looked really good. I quite like a good thriller. This wasn’t a good thriller. But more on that shortly too.

Last night, we stuck with one of the the TV offerings: Snow White and the Huntsman. This 2012 movie starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, is a dark re-imagining of the Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs story. We really enjoyed this one. And that’s not just because of Chris (Thor) Hemsworth, although that certainly helped my enjoyment! 😉

As a writer, I’ve massively struggled with getting the start of my novels right, particularly my debut one, ‘Searching for Steven’ (out on 3rd June this year). Does the story hook the reader in quickly? Do they get to know the protagonist and care about her? Is there enough action soon enough, or perhaps too much and I haven’t paused to explain what’s going on? As a reader, I don’t like to give up on books as I know that some of the slower-starting books can do an about-turn and suddenly become really gripping, but it’s hard to keep going to that point sometimes, especially when I don’t know if it’s ever going to appear!

The other thing that I feel is really important as a reader is the ending. This might seem obvious, but I find far too many books have a rushed ending and I feel cheated. Assuming we’re talking a romance story, I’ve spent the book willing the hero and heroine to get together. If it happens on the very last page, I feel a twinge of frustration. I’ve spent 299 pages caring about them. I don’t suddenly want it wrapping up on page 300. I like to have a chapter – or at least a few pages – leading up to it so that the conclusion doesn’t feel rushed, as though the writer had run out of space or got bored and thought they’d better finally shove them together. Because I knew what I liked (and didn’t like) in an ending, I didn’t struggle with the endings to any of my novels.

But what happens when there isn’t actually an ending?

Okay, so that might be an odd thing to say as surely the very fact that a book finishes must mean there’s an ending. Not necessarily. And, for this, I go back to our trio of films over this weekend.

If you’re planning to watch any of them, you might like to avoid reading on… *SPOILER ALERT*

Interstellar and Gone Girl, in my opinion, had several things in common:

1. They were overly and unnecessarily long

2. They had very long drawn-out beginnings. In book terms, these would have been the stories that I’d have toyed with abandoning because they were taking forever to get into

3. They didn’t have endings

To be fair to Interstellar, there were some moments in the middle that were very gripping. For example, they landed in the sea on a planet that they believed (from data they’d received via a previous explorer) to be habitable. They knew that there was an issue with time on the planet (which I won’t even begin to try and explain because I can’t get my head round it) and that an hour down there would be the equivalent to several years in ‘normal’ time. Once landed, they could see mountains in the distance, only these turned out not to be mountains but giant waves that rippled across the planet at regular intervals, destroying anything in their wake. There was a dramatic escape attempt, a death, and the even more shocking discovery that 23 years and 4 months had passed in the short time they’d been down there. Gripping stuff (not being sarcastic here). Then the film went a bit strange when Matthew McC fell through a wormhole and could see his daughter’s bedroom and send her messages by pushing books off shelves. Yep, I won’t try to explain that either. Somehow he got rescued out of this wormhole and ended up on another planet to which the population of earth had temporarily moved (I think). He was still in his thirties but his daughter was exceedingly old and about to die and suggested he go and find Anne Hathaway on the planet she’d travelled to before he disappeared down the wormhole. It showed him taking a spacecraft. It showed her on the planet on her own. And then it ended. Hubby and I both shouted at the TV screen. What sort of non-ending was that?! What happened to them? What happened to the former population of earth? Had they saved the human race from distinction?

Gone Girl, although a completely different genre of film, had an equally surprising non-ending. I haven’t read the book so I base this purely on the film (and, again, emphasise it is only my opinion as I’m sure many love it), but it appears to be the story of two quite self-centred people who have a very lively sex life who grow to dislike each other. She goes missing and the clues point to him having murdered her. Then we discover that she’s alive and has set it up because she hates him for changing and for having an affair. All her money gets stolen so she contacts an ex-boyfriend who was a bit obsessed with her at college. He sets her up in his holiday home but she turns psycho on him after seeing her husband on a chat show acting like the man she fell in love with. She then murders the ex and, covered in his blood, drives back to Ben Affleck’s house and claims she was abducted by the ex. Keeping up so far? Ben knows she’s a psycho who murdered the ex yet doesn’t say anything because she’s managed to get hold of a sperm donation he made at a fertility clinic and is now pregnant with his child. Let me just repeat that. Wife frames husband for murdering her, loses her money, murders her ex, returns to ex, gets pregnant using his sperm donation, and he stays with her despite her having admitted she murdered the ex. Then it ends. Eh? I don’t understand? How is that an ending? It doesn’t conclude anything. Nobody is happy. Nobody gets their come-uppance. The murder of the poor ex isn’t solved.

I’m very aware that there are films out there that leave you with questions, but at least they do have an ending. I’m trying to think of examples and I can only come up with ‘Total Recall’ at the time of writing, but I’m sure I’ll think of others after I’ve posted this! I don’t think that Interstellar or Gone Girl were meant to be this type of film. Or maybe I’ve just missed the point.

Which brings us onto the third film. Although it wouldn’t feature up there with my most favourite films ever, Snow White and the Huntsman got going quickly, kept a pace throughout, and it had an ending. A proper ending. An ending where the Queen got her come-uppance (but not without a big battle first), Snow White got crowned as the rightful Queen, and there was a smouldering look from Thor … sorry, the Huntsman, suggesting they had a future too. It was concluded with the hint of the HEA too. Exactly how it should be.

It could be just me, though. I’m sure some people like the slow-build and the inconclusive conclusion (is that a contradiction in terms?), but I really, really don’t.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions on any of these films, particularly around the subject of beginnings and (non-)endings.

Happy Easter everyone 🙂 xx

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2 thoughts on “Beginnings and Endings

  1. I haven’t watched any of those films, Jessica, but I do know what you mean about beginnings and endings.
    I read a book recently which took ages to get going. I was on the point of giving up, actually, but my stubborn nature refused to let me. I’m glad I didn’t because the second half of the book was so much better and I actually ended up enjoying it, but I worry that not many people would have stuck with it that far…
    Beginnings are terribly tricky to get right. It took me ages to settle on a beginning for Angel. In fact, as I’ve said to you before, I think the easiest thing to do would be to write the rest of the book first and then go back to the first chapter!
    Like you, I find endings easier, and I, too, like there to be a satisfying conclusion. In a romance that needs to be spread out over a fair few pages at least. No sudden resolutions please!
    I don’t think I’ll be bothering with those films…:)

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