Tuesday, July 08, 2008
I've written a lot of stories about sex...a lot...and up until recently I stuck to the HEA (happily ever after) formula that many romance publishing houses require. This was no great hardship--I'm pretty much a "half full" person. And I also feel that for the most part a positive attitude about sex is a healthy one. I'm not oblivious to the dark side of sexuality, far from it: I've had plenty of "secondhand experience" with that (meaning firsthand experience with people whose sexuality is pretty damn dark). It's crucial to be mindful and well-informed on that subject. But to dwell on it, well, that's not so helpful or healthy.
Nevertheless, for my next collection of erotic romance stories, I decided to liberate myself from the HEA requirement and see what happens. For one thing, I thought it would widen my creative options. For another, as a Jungian I feel it really is important to be cognizant of one's shadow self. For a third, I'll admit to being under the influence of the often extremely dark fantasy author Neil Gaiman...I'm sure I can blame him for bringing out my negative side. LOL
But I'm finding this new approach is not so simple. You can't, as a responsible author, simply say to yourself, "Screw the happy ending, let's just let everything get as f'ed up as possible and let the chips fall where they may!" I learned this lesson this past weekend while watching a movie--let me share.
The movie was "The Mist," and I'll not spoil the ending for you except to say it wasn't happy. It was really UNhappy. It was unhappy on the level of the totally nihilistic and super-depressing endings that were prevalent in 70's movies and fell out of vogue with the release of "Star Wars," thank heavens. To call it a downer is a major understatement.
I realize a person shouldn't expect a cheerful ending from a horror movie. I'm also not the kind of person who dislikes horror movies or downer endings. I'm a huge fan of the "Hostel" movies. I loved "The Descent" and thought it had a perfectly acceptable downer ending. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors and few of his stories have HEA endings.
I would have been cool with the original ending to "The Mist," the one Stephen wrote. It's one of those classic ambiguous horror movie endings, like the end of "The Birds," where the family escapes the house and drives off among the crowds of resting birds, and you never find out for sure what happens to them or the world. The movie script of "The Mist" did not have an ambiguous ending...it was just one of those really, really horrific and depressing endings.
David and I were so distressed by this movie that we talked about it for an hour afterwards and looked up all the reviews and then then next day talked about it some more. These conversations were not the productive kind where you end up discovering something interesting about life or yourself. They were the critical kind where you just come up with more reasons why the film failed.
My point: If you choose to have an unhappy ending, you have to be willing to be responsible for it. Because people go to the movies and read fiction books primarily to be entertained. Unhappy endings can be informative, or enlightening, or eye-opening, but they are by nature not entertaining. So if you're going to not entertain with your ending, it had better have some sort of meaningful point, or your audience is going to be dissatisfied.
Applying this lesson to my particular case: People read about sex primarily to be entertained, too. If your erotic romance story is going to have an unhappy ending, you better have a good reason for it.
Meanwhile, I'm having a really rough time writing my latest story for this "dark erotic" anthology of mine. It's about Piero and Gilia, original characters in the Romeo-and-Juliet-verse, to use modern parlance. They are cousins, respectively, of R and J, who are having their own romantic problems as the events of Shakespeare's play unfold. "Romeo and Juliet" is one of the saddest tragedies of English literature, so it's difficult for any retelling of those events to be anything but tragic, at least in part. And to have a HEA ending befall a couple of side characters also seems rather pat and offensive to me.
However, I also shy away from taking the route of Piero and Gilia simply experiencing their own parallel tragedy. Why? Because the R&J story is enough of a bummer without dumping more unhappiness on the reader of this tale. I don't want (if you will) to "pull a Mist."
How I will resolve this quandary remains to be seen. (And you thought writers knew what they were doing when they start writing a story...ha!) But I'm determined to be careful and to be mindful that happy endings are not simply a literary device. The human psyche always functions better in a positive environment. Sure, negativity can seem "cooler," more realistic, and even more intellectual, but bringing people down requires them to pay a price they may not have signed on to pay.
We certainly didn't sign on for the ending of "The Mist."
Speaking of "good vibes"--please shoot some my way as I figure out what to do with poor Piero and Gilia. Right now they're dealing with the double suicide of their cousins, which is actually worse than dealing with having just seen "The Mist."