Monday, May 23, 2011


When a Good Plot Idea Goes Bad

A good ending is like, dare I say it, an orgasm, that perfect moment when everything in a book comes together in a perfect explosion of understanding, satisfaction and enlightenment. The ahhh moment. Am I wrong in wanting more from a story's ending--kapow--something I never saw coming, gripping and mind-blowing, a sudden burst of energy when everything becomes clear? Here are some good plot ideas gone bad: (Warning, contains plot spoilers. If you'd like to watch these movies and do not want to know how they end, please stop reading now!)

Mister Buddwing: This movie, starring James Garner (book by Evan Hunter) is the story of a man wandering around New York with amnesia (I always love amnesia stories). He thinks he may be an escaped mental patient and he meets three women who may help him unravel the truth. Unfortunately the ending is a clunker. After all this mystery and stunning intrigue, which frankly left me riveted, it turns out he only blocked out an accident involving his wife. Ugh, big letdown.
Deadly Encounter: A Lifetime Channel movie where a woman is involved in a road rage incident because a man is angry with her for cutting her off. Afterward, she receives threatening calls, is stalked, her mother is severely injured in a car accident and her son is kidnapped. Another clunker ending: after a deadly confrontation with her armed attacker in a deserted quarry, the man explains the reason for his rage: "You cut me off!" he shouts. So it's only because of the road rage, no surprise. I was expecting so much more.

Better Endings, Better Plots:

Mirage: Great amnesiac movie (one of my favorites) starring Gregory Peck as a man with amnesia in New York in lovely sixties black and white. His life is threatened and he is stalked because of what he knows. A woman claiming to be his former girlfriend feeds him tantalizing clues. More mystery surrounds the death of a big industrialist who has fallen from a high-rise building. Turns out Peck is really a chemist who has invented the formula for a perfect bomb--one that produces no fallout. He wanted the formula destroyed because it would make war too easy and munitions companies rich while his boss (the industrialist) did not. The irony is that the industrialist was also the head of a renowned peace foundation and Peck was responsible for accidentally causing his fall from the building because the man was reaching out for a copy of the formula Peck was trying to burn. Great ending, great irony.
Unknown: Another excellent amnesiac movie starring Liam Neeson as a doctor attending a biotechnology conference in Berlin with his wife. When he realizes he left his briefcase behind in a cab, he tries to retrieve it, but winds up getting involved in a car accident and is in a coma for four days. When he returns to the hotel, his wife does not recognize him and she is seemingly married to another man, who has assumed his identity. Once again, his life is threatened and he is stalked. In reality, he and his wife and the other man are really assassins supposedly sent to kill a Saudi prince. But there's another surprise, the target is actually a scientist who has discovered a new breed of corn with the ability to survive in any climate, easing the world's food supply problem. Once again, surprise and irony apparent in the fact that he thought he was a doctor, but in reality was a cold-blooded assassin.

While reading Writing Suspense and Mystery Fiction,I learned that Sherlock Holmes wrote stories that had surprises in them, but Edgar Allen Poe wrote stories that contained both surprise and irony. So really good endings should have both as well as providing the reader with that big kapow they were waiting for.

Next week: Metaphors and Similes, the Bane of My Existence


Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Alison,
I enjoyed your blog and, like you, feel very let down when a story falls short of my expectations. I love a good surprise ending.

wlynnchantale said...

I love a good suspense and hate when I've taken the time to watch a movie and it falls short of what it promises. I recently saw the movie The Stepfather (starring Dylan Walsh and Sela Ward) and it delivered on everything it promised. My kids thought I was watching a horror flick I was screaming so much.

Mary Ricksen said...

I hate when you watch a movie and the ending lets you down. The Stepfather was a great movie, I agree!

Sandra Koehler said...

Haven't heard of the Stepfather;will have to check it out...thanks for the tip...I love screaming! Alison