by Henry Vogel
Nearly thirty years ago, I discovered the mystery novels of jockey-turned-author Dick Francis. That summer, I hit all the local used book stores, tracking down every book Francis had written up to that point. Once I had read those, I was left waiting for him to release new books. Despite having a very limited book budget, Francis was one of only a handful of authors whose work I bought in hardback rather than waiting for the much less expensive paperback. For years, the arrival of his latest novel was a high point, with me diving into the book as soon as I got home from the bookstore. But, in 1990, things changed.
I picked up Longshot as soon as it was released and zipped through the book. I was really enjoying it, right up until the end. The main character solved the murder and had his confrontation with the murderer, just as you expect from this type of mystery. Francis wrote exactly one more paragraph and then ended the story. There was no reaction from the other characters in the book, not even any reaction from the main character other than relief at having survived the confrontation. The book just...stopped. The mystery was over but the story wasn't. Unfortunately, Francis's next two novels ended the same way; the mystery gets solved and one paragraph later the book ends. After three novels in a row like that, I not only stopped buying Dick Francis books in hardcover, I stopped reading his work.
If any of you saw the movie Air Force One, you've seen the same sort of thing happen. In the movie, Harrison Ford plays the president of the United States, pulling a Die Hard bit after terrorists take over Air Force One. In case you haven't seen it, I won't give away the ending, but just as soon as all the bad guys are dead and all the surviving good guys are safe, the movie ends. We don't see the president come home to either crowds cheering his bravery or questioning his actions when he gave in to terrorist demands (before killing them all, of course). Once again, the action is over and the movie ends. But the story is incomplete.
These are only two examples of something I've seen more and more over the last 20 years or so. Some authors and script writers seem to be getting lazy. They reach the end of their primary plot line and just end things right there. We, the readers and viewers, get cheated out of seeing how the resolution affects the characters we're supposed to care about.
Imagine if Luke Skywalker had blasted the Death Star, heard ghostly Obi-Wan say, "The force will be with you, always." and then the credits had rolled. Star Wars just wouldn't have been the same with the brief wrap up, including the award ceremony. Viewers would have felt cheated and, I suspect, the movie would have made far less money. It might have ended the franchise there and then.
What if, after Gollum had bitten off Frodo's ring finger and fallen into the fiery pits of Mount Doom, Tolkein had written something like, "And so the free peoples of the West were saved from Sauron's evil. The End." I suspect The Lord of the Rings would not have been chosen the greatest literary work of the 20th century, for one thing.
The point of all of the examples is to show that your story isn't over until your readers see how your characters react to the end of the main plot line. We all accept that major events will have an impact far exceeding what you can show at the end of your novel or screenplay, but we need to see at least the initial reaction from those characters.
We need to see Sam, the true hero of The Lord of the Rings, happily return to his life as a humble citizen of the Shire. We need to see Frodo, who had the most arduous burden of any in the Lord of the Rings, essentially broken under the weight of that burden.
We need to see Luke and Han recognized for their actions in the Battle of Yavin. We need to see Leia appearing truly regal. Most of all, we need to see R2-D2 fully functional again.
We buy books by an author because the main plot sounds interesting to us. We keep buying books from that author because he or she shows us not only the resolution of the plot line, but the resolution of the overall story.
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