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  1. La_Donna

    La_Donna Member

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    Which is the most emotionally (and narratively) effective ending?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by La_Donna, Jan 21, 2019.

    So, I've been writing a story for some time now, and I had the ending mapped out in my mind from the beginning. But now I am there, I am not sure if I like it, and just want to know what you think the most emotionally and narratively effective ending is out of the two I present here. I know should know best what to do with my characters, but I've been going back and forward so much I could do with some opinions!

    My story is about two teenagers living in Vienna in 1937. A is an amateur singer from an aristocratic family, although her family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She lives with her ill mother and two sisters (B and C), who are fighting over the attentions of a man A does not like. T has just moved to Vienna to live with his uncle, who runs a bookshop. He is a very talented pianist, but faces discrimination because he is half-Jewish. A is a regular customer at T's uncle's bookshop, and A and T eventually bond over their love of music. Eventually, they are split apart as the Nazi's begin to pressure Austria to become part of the Third Reich. A's mother dies and then B and C begin to openly fight with each other. It soon becomes clear that B has some leverage over C that will ruin C's life if it is ever revealed. T, aware that he will be a target of the Nazi's if he stays in Austria, asks A to come to America with him. Initially, she agrees, because she loves him, but later changes her mind because she knows B will destroy C's life if she leaves.

    Interspersed with this story, is A's life as an old woman sixty years later. She believed that T had died during the war so married someone else. Now living in America, she discovers that T survived the war and is still alive. She goes back to Vienna and visits the former haunts of her childhood, wondering if she made the right decision in staying with her sisters instead of leaving with T. She then visits T's wife, who tells her T is in a hospice dying of cancer. A rushes to the hospice and discovers he will only live a few more days...

    Then I'm stuck. Here are my two options (the first being my original idea):

    1) A goes to the hospice alone and bursts into T's room. They have a happy reunion, and T persuades her not to live a life full of regrets. They only have a few hours together before T's wife arrives and A decides not intrude on his last moments with his family. He dies a few days later. She goes to his funeral, and after leaving decides to live a life no longer haunted by "what ifs". I like that it gives the characters closure, but it also feels very cheesy and at odds with the tone of the rest of the story (which tries to be a little less soapy).

    2) A goes to the hospice with T's wife. Watching through a window, she sees how much T loves his wife and realises she will only be bringing him (and his family) pain by bursting into his life just as it ends. She decides to sacrifice her own closure for his happiness, just as she had sacrificed her own happiness for her sister's back in 1938. She goes to the funeral, and decides that even though she has created a second "what if", ultimately his happiness is more important to her than her own. I think this is more real and fitting with A's character, but I think it is quite a sad beat to end the story on.

    What do you think?
     
  2. WhatLibertine

    WhatLibertine Member

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    Hello,

    The story sounds interesting - the war story/separated lovers sounds slightly reminiscent of Atonement. Perhaps there is a way of going with ending 2, but tying it up with something more upbeat - or hopeful even. This could be anything from a change in her outlook. E.g "life is full of what ifs - but that's what makes it exciting". A bit wanky, but you get the idea.

    Just a few things from my read through - do we find out what sister B had over sister B? And what happens to the man they are quarrelling over? Is that resolved by the end?
     
  3. La_Donna

    La_Donna Member

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    Thanks for your response! I think a change of outlook might be possible if I go with option 2, and maybe just seeing him and knowing he was loved all those years will be enough for her.

    In terms of B and C, the man (lets call him Bob) they are fighting over actively plays B and C off each other because he gets a kick out of it. B, in an attempt to win Bob's affections, gets involved in his politics (he is pro-Nazi), which ends up driving a wedge between A and B. Despite B's attempt to win his affection, Bob decides to take C to the big ball, enraging B (with C, I'm going for the young and naive angle here). A tries to talk to B, saying that she has turned herself into something she is not to get a man who isn't worth it and to get one over C. They end up arguing, and eventual B throws a paperweight at A. It misses her, but hits a big portrait of their father, and dislodges a hidden will he made shortly before his death which discloses that C is not his daughter but the child of the girls' mother and their chauffeur. He splits his estate between A and B, and leaves nothing for C or their mother. B is overjoyed, and realises there is scope for going to the family lawyer and pressing for this will to be recognised (as their father was not known to have made a will). After much pressure, A convinces B to keep it a secret, which B promises she will do. Shortly after, the girl's mother dies, and it is left ambiguous whether she overdosed on her medicine or whether B purposefully gave her too much (because she knows their mother will contest the new will). A therefore knows that if she leaves, there is nothing preventing B revealing all and depriving C of her inheritance (and presumably kicking her out of the family home) and stealing Bob (Bob is a terrible person after all and will chase the money). Therefore, A decides not to leave.
     
  4. WhatLibertine

    WhatLibertine Member

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    It certainly sounds like an intriguing story.

    After thinking about it further, I think option 2 is definitely the way to go. It actually opens up quite a few options to go for more of a unique ending. Perhaps A could look at the tumultuous time that her sisters have had (depending on how it all ends with Bob) and is grateful for her positive, if brief, experience with T. Alternatively, if you wanted to go down a slightly feminist/philosophical route, perhaps A ultimately realises that her memory of T was something more precious than the inevitable disappointment that men always turn out to be in reality. Or for something more conventional, a kind of montage of her experiencing a selection of adventurous new pursuits - a la Rose at the end of Titanic!
     
  5. love to read

    love to read Active Member

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    Hi,
    I like the story but I have a question. Did A tell T why she changed her mind about leaving with him? If not, I think there should be a last reunion, for it must have been hard for her to live with this all the years and it really would be sad if she couldn‘t get the chance to make things right.
    If he knew, I think I‘d go for the second option. It doesn‘t have to be too sad if A had also a good marriage. Perhaps she realizes that though her time with T was special it simply wasn‘t meant to be given the time and circumstances. When she sees how much T loves his wife she is grateful for the time she and T had together and also grateful for the second chances life gave them to find their happiness, though not together. Though I‘m not sure if A really should go to the hospice together with T‘s wife, for then it would be difficult for A to leave, not knowing if the wife had already mentioned her to T or not.
     
  6. La_Donna

    La_Donna Member

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    Thanks so much! That's very helpful.

    She tells T why she is staying. I think the reason she is so cut up about the "what if" is because even though she stays, her sisters do not get a happy ending, so she feels like she sacrificed T for nothing. As for why she goes to the hospice together with the wife, T's wife is someone that A knew back when they were young. They'd always had an awkward relationship (because T's wife had had a crush on T while T and A were together), but T's wife knows how much A meant to T.
     
  7. love to read

    love to read Active Member

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    Good morning,
    thanks for the explanation. I still like the second ending best. And I think A can still get her closure if you want, because she is now older and knows more about life than when she let T go.
    Anyway I like the story, there seem to be some exiting characters.
     
  8. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I would definitely go with the second option, as regards the story's ending. However, I am not entirely convinced that A's decision to stay behind 'because B will destroy C's life if she doesn't' is very convincing at all. This makes C sound like quite a wimp. I'm sure there would be other ways for A to help her sister without sacrificing her own happiness. (Could A and T have taken C with them to the USA?) However, if, in your story, the reason for A's sacrifice comes across as more grounded, then that's fair enough. But at the moment, from what you've given us, this reason for the sacrifice sounds a bit ...weak.

    Okay, I've just read the bit added into another post, about the hidden will. I still think this is weak. It's a squabble over an inheritance—nothing more sinister. Surely, since it sounds as if C hasn't much of a chance of getting the money, she would jump at a chance to leave?

    If I were you, I would work harder at making the reason C has to stay behind a lot stronger, if the A & T part of the story is to remain the same.
     
  9. La_Donna

    La_Donna Member

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    Thanks for your comments, I do address these points in my story. Do you find them convincing?

    I think there are several reasons why C coming with T and A wouldn't be an option. Firstly, the fact that T is half-Jewish would put the whole group in danger as they travel through fascist-dominated Central Europe (although A doesn't go with T, she later discovers that T got caught crossing the Italian border illegally and that's why she believes he died). A is prepared to do it because she loves T, but C has no reason to.

    Secondly, you are kind of right - C is a wimp, but that doesn't stop A caring for and loving her sister. C is a sixteen year old girl (whereas A and B are eighteen and nineteen respectively), and a little spoiled and self-centred. She loves her life in "society", and has largely sacrificed her schooling to chase after Bob. Unlike the academic A, she has no qualifications to recommend herself in America if they ever get there. She would be equally ill-equipped to deal with illegally crossing the border and emigrating to America as she would living on the streets of Vienna. In an ideal world, C would toughen up, but A knows that is just never going to happen.

    Finally, A has another reason for staying. Before meeting Bob, she had been "intended" for an old family friend (let's call him John), who is well-off and would be able to support A and C even if B decided to push for the will to be recognised. A and John are good friends, although A has never had romantic feelings for him. Part of the reason why A's relationship with T takes so long to get going is because she is cut up about how she is treating John, who has only ever been kind to her. Remember, this is also a period with a very rigid class system and A's upper-middle family already look down on T for being lower-middle class (and T's uncle feels T is getting into lots of trouble by getting involved with A). In contrast, John is seen as a good catch and, while it isn't forced, there is an "expectation" that A and John will get married.

    Therefore, for A, the decision to run off with T feels very very selfish. It would be dangerous to ask C to come with them, but abandoning her would mean that she would be at the mercy of B and Bob. Furthermore, A would break this unwritten contract she has with John, who she respects and likes but doesn't love. I think A deciding to stay also offsets T's decision to leave nicely - whereas she is cautious and dutiful, he lives every day like it is his last. Does that make sense?
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, this is making a lot more sense, especially your last two sentences. This would make the whole thing a bit more plausible. In fact, even though they are in love T and A have very different approaches to life? I suspect that would get in the way at some point. Maybe she made the right choice after all?

    Just be careful not to make A into some kind of spineless martyr at the whim of her sisters and her 'intended', if you want readers to identify with her. Put her in a situation where she just feels guilty about this, and guilty about that, and that will make her look like a sad sack who needs to develop a backbone.

    You could make her choice not to accompany T seem to be a no-brainer at the time (a decision she will later fully regret.) Something along the lines of, 'How can you expect me to drop everything and follow you off into the blue when I have my sister to look after and I'm promised to another man? Of course I can't go." Or, conversely, make it the most difficult choice she's ever faced in her life. For that one, you'll need to make her reasons for not going as compelling and inescapable as possible.
     
  11. La_Donna

    La_Donna Member

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    I think I am going for the "hardest decision she's ever had to make" route. She's a lovestruck teenager who nevertheless feels all these pressures as to who she is meant to be (both from her family and from T) and her decision to let him go is her deciding who she is - she was born to play the dutiful wife and sister, and doesn't believe in the utopia that T promises her is waiting for her in America. I think the chief message of my story is that over the course of your life you are always changing and are never the same, and asks the question whether this is a slow evolution or the product of big life-changing decisions that shape who you are. A thinks that her decision to let T go made her into who she became, but by using a non-linear narrative structure, I want to show it was lots of little decisions that made her into who she became. I use four timelines:
    • The main timeline is shown from the perspective of 18-year-old A, and shows her falling in love with T and then deciding to give him up.
    • The second timeline sees 80-year-old A discover T is still alive, and it brings back a lot of old emotions as she tries to reconcile herself with the decision she made when she was a teenager.
    • The third timeline sees 28-year-old A trying to find T after the war. Instead, she meets an American officer who offers her a new life in New York. Although she does not know what has happened to T and promised she would find him after the war, she decides to learn her lesson from her relationship with T and go off with this new guy. (Somewhat ironically, she ends up in America whereas T never leaves Austria).
    • The fourth timeline (which only has a few scenes), sees 8-year-old A's relationship with B and C (and establishes why they don't like each other). It also drops hints about C's true parentage (I try to use the relationship between A's mother and the chauffeur as a parallel to A & T's relationship, as A's mother refuses to give up her lover and it ends up splitting up the family).
    Hopefully, by comparing these different A's, I will show what effect the A's decision had on her. Everyone on here seems to think that Option 2 is the better ending, and I am inclined to agree, but maybe if I am taking it from this approach it should be more a case of "I don't need to see T again. We are no longer the people we were when we were eighteen, and I learnt lessons from my time with him that I took forward into my new life. Do you think that would make sense?
     
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  12. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think your last two sentences would make sense in real life ...but I think that ending would disappoint your readers. I expect readers will want to see T again, even if he and A don't get together. It would bring closure to the story. More closure than A simply deciding she doesn't need to find him after all. That sounds like a huge anticlimax to me.

    I still have a few doubts, but probably because I'm just reading a synopsis and not the actual story. But it almost sounds as if the problems with B & C are being hatched simply as a 'reason' to keep your character from following her heart. Are we going to care why B and C don't like each other? Are we going to care about the relationship between A's mother and the chauffeur? Are we going to care who inherits what?

    If the answer is yes, we will care a lot, then that's excellent. But if these things are simply going to feel like an artificial obstacle rather than the story's main driver, then I'd rethink them to some extent. Or at least make sure your readers really care about these things and can fully sympathise with A's position and her decision.

    If we're sitting reading thinking: For Crying Out Loud, you silly girl! You can't save people from themselves. Leave your miserable family, who are simply creating problems for each other, and go with the man who loves you! then the story might have a different impact from what you were expecting.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2019
  13. La_Donna

    La_Donna Member

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    Thanks for all your comments! They are really making me think it out!

    Well, I mean from a plotting perspective of course all the stuff with B and C is just a reason to keep A and T apart, but I also want the readers to feel something for B and C as characters. I imagine this story as being about why A turns out the way she is, and B and C are just as important as T is to that process.

    The villain of the piece is undoubtedly Bob, who is a young, attractive man who loves feeling powerful by using and abusing women. Before he even becomes involved with B and C, there are all these rumours about him badly treating women (none of which any characters other than A believe). On top of this, he gets involved with the Nazis because he likes the feeling of power it gives him. C is unsure about the reason for B's animosity towards her, and is deep down sad that B never wanted a relationship with her like she did with A. At first, it appears that B's feelings hatred for C is because she is jealous because 1) C is the prettiest sister and consequently gets the most attention 2) Bob shows C attention. However, it is deeper than it first appears. As a child, B was ill (I'm not sure with what yet) and was kept inside by their mother a lot. While this was going on, their mother had C with the chauffeur. C was always their mother's favourite child, as she was the only one born from her relationship with her one true love. Their mother's favouritism led B to feel as if their mother was purposefully locking her away while treating C like a princess. Furthermore, it draws B towards Nazism as, like Bob, she likes the feeling of power it gives her, and she has always felt powerless in the family dynamic. Their mother's affair therefore not only drives a wedge between A and B's mother and father, but also between B and C as adults. Consequently, when A discovers this history, it effects her decision about her relationship with T, because she sees a parallel between her mother's selfish decision to have an affair with her chauffeur, and A's own decision to run away with T.

    I definitely want to avoid the readers not understanding why A decides to stay, but at the same time I don't want B and C to be hugely sympathetic (especially B, who is more a villain than a hero). I want A to know at the time she is sacrificing her own happiness for C's, and in the moment feel she is doing the right thing. It is only years later (after her staying failed to fix the relationship between B and C) that she starts to wonder what her life would have been like if she was selfish.
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I'd say continue to think it out as you write. It's not so much that we need to care about B,C, etc. It's that we need to feel that A really had no choice, and that she wasn't just a foolish, do-gooder martyr type.

    This brought to mind one of my favourite movies, "The Bridges of Madison County."
    (I read the book beforehand, which was a mistake. It was an okay book, but I feel the movie was more powerful, mainly because of the magnificent performance by Meryl Streep.)

    The situation in that story has parallels with yours, although not exact parallels. But it involves a woman having to choose between family responsibilities and the love of her life. Like your story, the woman unselfishly chooses her family, which leaves her with monster heartbreak that she needs to stifle for the rest of her life.

    However, there is a lot of difference regarding moral responsibility in play here. The Bridges story is about a mature woman electing to remain with her nice, but ordinary husband and children instead of going off with her exciting soul mate to live a more personally fulfilling life. Hers is definitely the unselfish and moral choice, although it's hard on her. Yours is about a young woman who chooses to stay with squabbling siblings, rather than leave with her true love who needs to escape the Nazis. Morality and selfishness isn't quite so obvious here. She has no obligation to stay with siblings. Siblings are always meant to be left at some point. And it's not selfish to want to marry a man who loves you, when you are not all that strongly committed to somebody else. So I think you really need to focus hard on making the readers share your character's emotional reasons for making this choice.

    One of the devices you could use (besides working very hard at the start to make her relationship with C a very strong one) is to make her immediately regret her decision. The minute T leaves, she knows she's made a mistake, but she's stuck with it.

    That scene in Bridges of Madison County, where the Meryl Streep character sits in her husband's pickup, with her hand on the car door handle, watching the love of her life sit for a long time ahead of them at the traffic light (even after it turns green) before driving away forever is one of the most harrowing screen moments I've ever experienced. Despite all the reasons her character had for staying, you are watching this scene thinking 'GO!' And when she doesn't turn the handle, and he disappears around the corner and out of her life forever, we feel as heartbroken as she does. She has no choice then, but to simply soldier on, which she does.

    If you can engender that kind of reader feeling for your character A, then you'll be on track.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2019
  15. La_Donna

    La_Donna Member

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    Thanks very much. That is the feeling I want to go for with A. I've never read Bridges of Madison County, but maybe I should.
     
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  16. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I'd advise you to watch the movie instead. It's a lot more gripping than the book was.
     

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