Posted by: Alastair Rosie | December 9, 2012

Part Twelve The Reward

Firstly I would like to apologise to any who have followed this series for the month long break. I was involved in Nanowrimo and I did manage to complete the first full draft of my vampire novel, so hats off to me! But it was a hard slog and I will share more of that in the next few weeks. But with all that writing, a total of 110,000 words (I’m not counting the 42,000 I wrote before November) I was understandably too tired to blog. Anyway, enough grovelling and back slapping and onto part twelve, The Triumphant Return.
Enjoy!
Alastair Rosie.

THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN

There are two scenes in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King that illustrate the Triumphant Return. The first is when the hobbits are all united again and various characters make their reappearance as well. The second is when Aragorn meets Arwen and the two are joined as one, Aragorn then greets the hobbits in full view of his subjects and gets down on one knee. This is a signal for all the people to do the same thing, acknowledging the debt the kingdoms of men owe to the Halflings.
It’s the Reward, an acknowledgement that your hero has returned with a boon, a reward or in the case of hunter gatherer societies, meat for the tribe. You need a reward of some sort. Your hero may have been raped, beaten, humiliated, gone through a dozen tests, experienced near death a couple of times, killed minions and the arch villain, and returned with some reward. It’s amazing she’s still alive and we need to show our appreciation. She has done what we have dreamed about and it’s also the time when you can relax, stretch your fingers, do a little happy dance and reward your hero for all her hard work.
There are two basic endings here. One is the closed circle so popularised in American film and novels where the hero returns to the same world with a reward for the community or a personal reward like in Notting Hill where William and Anna get married and we see a very pregnant Anna in the final scene in that private garden. The garden was shown earlier in the darkness where she kissed him for the second time thus launching them both on a journey. Now it’s in full daylight, there is a carnival atmosphere and they are both contented.
The other ending is the open ending like in The Brave One. Jodie Foster’s character, Erika Bain has killed the murderers and been given a chance to escape by Mercer, who should in real life have arrested her. But Erika is scarred. She returns to the same old world to start again but she knows that it’s a changed world. We are left with questions. Were her actions right and honourable or did she become like the villains? This kind of ending is popular in Europe, Britain, America and Asia where there is a general understanding that life isn’t so simple. They decry the Hollywood ending and personally I feel they do the Hollywood ending a disservice because we all want the happy ever after ending. To be blunt, there is nothing wrong with the happy ever after ending. It’s not trite, childish or silly, it leaves people feeling satisfied, happy and content. They feel it was worth going through this journey you plotted so ingeniously. Personally I quite like the closed ending even if I’m writing a series, which would lend itself to an open ending, it ties off the loose ends or most at least, and leaves the reader with a sense of completeness. The first Twilight book did that admirably, we left Bella and Edward together and she had begun her journey to become a vampire, but it could easily have ended right there and then if Stephanie Meyer had wanted.
How you end the book depends on whether you want to leave the reader feeling as if good can triumph over evil or if you want to leave the reader with more questions. There are no right and wrong ways to do this, my only suggestion is that you are consistent with your world, and that is one of the classic mistakes in fiction. You need to know enough of your world to be consistent with the rules you’ve set in place. You can twist the laws of physics all you want but you must be consistent with the new laws. Don’t bring in some alien civilisation to rescue your heroes if you haven’t foreshadowed them earlier on. Don’t introduce some prince who was really masquerading as a pauper if you haven’t set it up earlier. One book I read recently had a brilliantly constructed world, a great retelling of the Hero Cycle but right at the end the author has the hero making a choice that is so left field you felt cheated. It’s treating your reader like an idiot. Readers are very sophisticated and will pick up on that very quickly.
In the example of The Brave One, having Erika walking out with her head held high, proud of what she has done would be inconsistent because all the way through the movie we see the vigilante she has become unravelling her personality. She is becoming the villain. To suddenly turn around and have her feeling as if she is honourable might please on a superficial level but we’d be left with the feeling that there’s something not right here. To modify the familiar Star Trek line, It’s story telling but not as we know it.
One bad example of an open ended ending is in Basic Instinct at the final love scene, where the camera drops below the bed and we see the ice pick. It was cheap and an attempt to get away from the Hollywood ending when in actual fact we didn’t need to be left in doubt. We learned who the killer was and I was left wondering why is that pick there in the first place? It’s left there to try and instil doubt in the viewers mind and I felt in that sense it failed. In storytelling lingo it’s called the ‘twist in the tail’ ending.
This kind of end works better if you’re writing a series or in a tv serial because you’re carrying on the story. In a single book or movie that is supposed to be a complete story in itself use the twist in the tail ending with caution. In other words don’t just throw it in to make it more dramatic. Basic Instinct was dramatic enough without that final shot of the ice pick.
Many closed circle endings have a marriage or a joining of the two as in Hope Floats where we see Birdee and Justin at the fair and later on returning to her home. Titanic has an older Rose tossing the Heart of the Ocean into the ocean to symbolise that the quest was not about finding a jewel and becoming millionaires but the relationship born on the Titanic that inspired her to become all that Jack wished for her, we see pictures of her riding horses and doing things that women weren’t expected to do. Finally we return to the Titanic in her dreams and Jack is there to greet her to the applause of all who perished, it might have been criticised by viewers outside of America but that final Hollywood ending was probably needed to finish it off.
However you don’t have to have your hero and heroine going off into the sunset. Shane rides off alone in what was a staple of Westerns. In Proof of Life, Crowe’s character rebuffs Alice’s overtures because he’s recognised that for all his faults, her husband is a good man. This is the way it’s supposed to end and she doesn’t want it that way. It’s consistent with the world we’ve been invited into at the start. To have her leave with him is cheating the audience. How would we feel if Lara Croft ended up with one of her side kicks? It doesn’t feel right just thinking about it. Likewise the ending in The Horse Whisperer. To have her going off with the cowboy might elicit sighs from the audience but it’s not consistent with the character arcs that have played out.
The triumphant return may merely be a recognition that your hero was right all along. In A Time to Kill, Carl Lee is found innocent and Brigance and his family drive over to his place to join in the celebration and Brigance reworks Carl Lee’s line uttered in a prison cell, “I thought it was time our kids learned to play together.” The rich white successful lawyer has recognised why Carl Lee picked him as his lawyer, because he was the enemy. The enemy had to find him not guilty of murdering two white boys.
In AVP, Alex is left with a boon of a very physical type, the spear of a Predator and the recognition of an alien species who have hunted humans for sport. It is a salute and although it’s fleeting, the ending leaves us feeling satisfied. In the movie Outbreak, the cure for the virus is found, arguably I think it was all too soon and a bit unbelievable but it worked for the most part.
The important lesson to take away from this is your choice of ending. The closed circle or the open ended question? What you do must resonate within your world. Whether it’s the drama of a courthouse in New York or an alien world in a galaxy far far away, the ending has to be consistent with your world. Surprise endings jolt the reader especially if there’s been no real foreshadowing, it’s disrespecting your reader because like a magician you’ve pulled the wool over their eyes and pulled an elephant out of your hat instead of a rabbit.
Look back over the Hero’s Journey in your work. How can you reward your hero? If you want an open-ended question, something for us to consider, what is the fundamental question? In the movie The Kingdom we are left with the exact two statements from hero and villain, “we’re going to kill them all.” The question raised relates directly to the 911 wars and the struggle between East and West, with the unasked question being do we have to kill each other off? Was it all worthwhile? One villain is dead but there are many more to take his place.
Look at endings to movies and books. Could they have been better? I can guarantee they could have been better if certain things had been changed. Your list will be different to mine of course. Now go back to your story and perhaps sketch out different endings. One will resonate with you and others will feel odd like something’s missing and that’s a crucial element in storytelling. What feels right is probably right and what feels wrong is wrong. It’s like a headache, the pain is a symptom that something is wrong, probably too much coffee and not enough food, but look back over your story and decide on the best way to reward your hero or the questions you want to leave for the reader and only you can decide the answer to that question.
The Hero’s Journey is not a blueprint for success, nor is it a formula. It’s a set of guide posts and there are plenty of stories out there that use part of the journey but skip other stages or do them in a different order. You’re not constrained by The Hero’s Journey; it’s a form that resonates with the real world. Your personal hero’s journey began on your first day of school and ended with graduating from college. Another hero’s journey might be meeting your partner, falling in love and getting married. As mentioned earlier on, the Hero’s Journey is something we take part in every day of our lives in some form or another and part of what we experience when we read of another hero’s journey is but an echo of our own search for meaning and fulfilment. The books put out by Harlequin may not be particularly well written, but they are selling the dream that somewhere out there is a special soulmate, your other half. That’s why the Harlequin enterprise works so consistently and so successfully in spite of the fact it’s been spurned by literary and mainstream critics. Harlequin understand the power of the dream.
Next week we will put it all together in summarised form and follow up with a couple of articles pulling apart different stories to identify the stages I’ve been talking about. For those who’ve followed this series through to the end I would like to thank you for your patience. Certainly for me this felt like a Hero’s Journey as I do have other writing tasks as well as a full time job that doesn’t involve any writing at all. Thank you to those who responded with comments and I do apologise if I haven’t responded quickly, my life would be so much better if each day had 48 hours.
Until next Sunday, I wish you a productive writing week and we’ll pause for one more look at The Hero’s Journey.

 

Other examples of the Return.

Sarah Connor in The Terminator where she stops off for gas and we have her recording her memories on a tape recorder and that final picture, which survives in the future.
The final goodbye in The Pelican Brief and this one didn’t have our two heroes going off into the sunset but a very definitive goodbye.
Dances With Wolves and Stands With a Fist riding away from the camp and the final farewell in Dances with Wolves, here they are both together and John Dunbar has become the Master of Two Worlds.
And finally for all the romantics, the ending in Pretty Woman where our hero climbs up the ladder, proving he has overcome his fear of heights and brings his pretty woman back down to his world, which is symbolised by the limousine.

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