The Misery Of Getting What You Want

Stephen Sondheim wrote a great musical about what happens after you get what you really want; don’t watch the movie and think that it’s the real thing. They did disastrous and soul-crushing things to the script and the characters, but I digress.

The point is; compelling stories lie not in the getting of what you what, but in the aftermath of facing reality, after you have what you want.

Frodo has to leave the Shire, and there is a wrenching feeling of inevitability in his departure. Harry gets what he wants, but has paid for it thoroughly, and therefore the books end with very little (see, none) drama.

When you get what you really want, but you have not paid for it, you begin to pay through the nose for the privilege of having what you really want. Depression and apathy, or soul-destroying anxiety, result from this.

I don’t want to see your characters struggling epically to get what they want, and then see a tidy and rug-sweeping bow on the end of the story; I want to see the mess that results from the achievement of all their goals.

Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone is only the opening scene; the real story is how Arthur pulls together the kingdom, and subdues his rivals to establish Camelot. Richard III, by Shakespeare, is exactly this kind of aftermath story. It is the crowning jewel of all the history plays. Henry V and Richard III are the only histories by Shakespeare that are really worth producing, because Henry (Prince Hal) is a worthwhile anomaly, and because Richard III is about the aftermath of a happy ending.

Be sure, when you examine your novel, that you are not writing a very thorough opening scene.