Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stories: Do You Like the Destination, or the Journey?

I can't remember the name of the movie, but around 1999 I saw a Robert DeNiro movie with some friends. The premise of the movie is that DeNiro was a former special agent of some agency or other, and he was hired along with other former agents in Paris by an unknown employer for a mission. About all I remember about the movie is some car chases in those small European cars and at the end DeNiro and company retrieved a briefcase. Part of the suspense of the movie is that we never did find out what was actually in the briefcase. I also remember the sound quality being very poor. Here's how you can tell: if a character smokes, pay attention when he or she lights up. If a Zippo lighter is pulled out, remember that a Zippo has a very distinctive click. If the Zippo doesn't make a sound, that means poor sound quality. It also means a lack of attention to detail as professionals typically add those sounds in later. DeNiro's Zippo was silent, and for some reason I remember that to this day rather than the title of the movie. Back to the original point to this post, the next day I told my roommates about the movie. The asked what I thought of it. I said "I didn't think it was that great. I just wish I knew what was in that damn briefcase." My roommate's fiance (now wife) suddenly became very angry with me. It turns out that they were on their way out to see that movie and I just "spoiled the ending" for her.

I have honestly never had a problem with knowing how a story ends before I begin it. I don't mind movie spoilers, and with the exception of the Bible I don't read the last chapter of a book out of sequence yet still don't mind hearing discussion of the end before I begin. I have always been like this. I believe it is because I focus a lot on details, so knowing how the story ends frees my mind up to focus on how the story actually gets there. In the case of a good story for me knowing the ending does not ruin the outcome. Some TV shows are a case in point. Take for example the show House. How often has House been on the verge of a firing or serving time in jail? We know that unless Hugh Laurie is leaving the show or the show is being canceled, the likelihood of House being fired or thrown in jail is about zero, but the stories are constructed well and we still feel the suspense even though we know the ultimate outcome.

Also consider the Star Wars prequels. We all know how the story was to end with Episodes 4, 5, and 6. We all know that Luke Skywalker wins, and Darth Vader dies. But, we watched Episodes 1, 2, and 3 and endured the idiocy of Jar-Jar Binks because we wanted the gaps in the story filled in. We all knew how the story was to ultimately end, but we were along for the ride.

For me, for whatever reason, the "journey" through a story has always been more fun than actually getting to the end.

My approach to life is similar. My wife and I have been trying to sell our house for about a year. We started working on it a year ago, although we didn't get on the market until the end of June 2007. I wish I knew how this would eventually work out, so I could concentrate on the finer details in the middle.

What about you? Do you prefer not to have the ending spoiled, or like me, does it free your mind to pay attention to the path the plot of a story takes in getting to the end?

Technorati Tags: Stories,Movies,Endings,Spoilers

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