Dec 2nd 2014

How a Novel Ends

by Warren Adler

Warren Adler is an American author who has written forty books, 12 of which have been filmed. He is best known for The War of the Roses, the fictionalization of a macabre divorce. This dark comedy was soon turned into a feature film box office hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito. Adler’s works have been translated into 25 languages. Waren Adler, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and New York University, majored in English literature. He then went on to study creative writing.  After graduation, Adler worked at the New York Daily News, before becoming editor of the Queens Post.During the Korean War, Adler was recruited by Armed Forces Press Service to serve in the Pentagon. Warren Adler has owned four radio stations and a TV station, while running his own advertising and public relations agency in Washington, D.C. Adler is one of the founders of the Washington Dossier magazine. He is also the founder of the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference, WY, and has been Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jackson Hole Public Library. Adler’s themes deal primarily with intimate human relationships—the mysterious nature of love and attraction, the fragile relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, the corrupting power of money, the aging process, and how families cling together when challenged by the outside world.

Roderick Thorp was part of a small group of novelists who came together on a monthly basis in the late eighties in Los Angeles to chew the fat. Rod had made a breakthrough success at the age of twenty-seven with the novel The Detective, which became a very successful movie that starred Frank Sinatra. Rod's novel  Nothing Lasts Forever was the source material for the tremendously successful movie Die Hard and its numerous sequels.

This group of novelists, founded by yours truly and the great thriller novelist Andrew Kaplan (War of the Raven), also included Ib Melchior (Robinson Crusoe on Mars), whose novels and stories about his experiences in World War II are now classics; S.L. "Sid" Stebel, a novelist and celebrated writing teacher; Mann Rubin, a playwright and successful screenwriter; and Brian Garfield (The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians), a prolific best-selling author whose novel Death Wishspawned numerous sequels.

They were all savvy, extraordinarily talented writers, each with stellar resumes of achievement. Although we talked in general about the ups and downs of the writer's life, much of our conversation was about movies, conflicts with our publishers, and various events of the day. Our group was the highlight of my life during my six year stay in L.A, some of which was spent on the Warner Lot, where my most pleasant memory was the time I spent daily in the commissary.

Rod and Mann have since passed on, but the group, although its members are a bit long in the tooth now, continues to meet, and whenever I am in L.A I join them happily. There is a strange bond that exists among writers and I believe we all felt sheer joy in coming out of our lonely scribbling caves to meet together, as if it were a reunion of comrades taking time off from the battlefield.

Sometimes a casual remark by one of my friends would strike a chord that lingered and expanded into some indelible and profound insight resonating through the years. One of these remarks came from the irrepressible Rod, who once opined that if he knew how his novels ended he wouldn't write them. In my opinion, that remark nailed the existential dilemma of the novelist's art. What constitutes the end of a story, and how is it achieved?

Rod's idea articulated the way novels should be written. I had always pursued my novel writing using this method to achieve a proper ending, but it was Rod who articulated this perspective without compromise. What he meant was that a novelist cannot presume the ending in advance.

Rod's idea, of course, is open to argument. Many novelists do approach their work with an ending in mind and work backward to create elements that lead inexorably to that prearranged finale. Most genre novels end this way. Indeed, that is why they are categorized as "genre." To fit into this categorization, they follow well-trodden plot paths to a formulaic, genre-prescribed ending.

As I interpret Rod's pronouncement on endings, the method is to create our characters from a basic idea that has flown mysteriously into our imagination, then follow them on their path towards their destiny, as if I might have a doppelganger watching over my shoulder, eagerly following the story. What happens next is at the very heart of storytelling; like life, it is a walk into the unknown. As the scotch poet Robert Burns so elegantly declared in his poem The Mouse, roughly quoted: "The best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry." John Steinbeck had uncovered the perfect title for his wonderful novel Of Mice and Men, which underlines my thesis under discussion in this blog. For those who know the story, Lenny's fate is organic to the ending of that great novel.

For an author, the real excitement and inspiration, the joy of creation itself, comes in tracking the fate of their characters into that unknown future. To the creator, these characters become real, full-blooded, and three-dimensional. If the writer knows in advance the fate of these characters, the effort is merely a lifeless mechanical construct.

Unlike life, which always ends in death, a novel's end can be described as happy, sad, conclusive or inconclusive, disappointing or satisfying, but it is that crucial moment, the climax, that closes the experience for the reader.

One does not question God's sequence of events in creating the world, nor why he or she decided to rest on the seventh day. As they say, it is what it is.

This Article Was Originally Published on www.Warrenadler.com, posted here with the kind permission of the author.




More about Warren Adler:

Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler's international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2015-2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including Random Hearts(starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas) and The Sunset Gang (produced by Linda Lavin for PBS' American Playhouse series starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Doris Roberts). In recent development are the Broadway Production of The War of the Roses, to be produced by Jay and Cindy Gutterman, The War of the Roses - The Children (Grey Eagle Films and Permut Presentations), a feature film adaptation of the sequel to Adler's iconic divorce story, Target Churchill (Grey Eagle Films and Solution Entertainment), Residue (Grey Eagle Films), Mourning Glory, to be adapted byKaren Leigh Hopkins, and Capitol Crimes (Grey Eagle Films and Sennet Entertainment), a television series based on his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series. Warren Adler's newest thriller, Treadmill, is officially available.

For Warren Adler's web site, please click here.
For Facebook: www.facebook.com/warrenadler
For Twitter : @WarrenAdler





     

Browse articles by author

More Essays

May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."
Apr 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "A crisis such as this one demands that we exercise what the philosopher Immanuel Kant called the ‘public use of reason’ – as opposed to merely the ‘private use of reason’ where, briefly put, the expert, the specialist is tasked with resolving a defined problem. The private use of reason is sufficient when we are dealing with a problem that can be solved by simply applying the appropriate expertise...............The public use of reason asks: how we are defining the problem? Is our definition – our conceptualization of the problem – perhaps part of the problem itself? Is this pandemic solely a problem of public health, or is it also a problem of extreme economic inequality? ..............Since this crisis began, the greatest failure of the administration is not the denial, the lies, the lack of preparedness, but the inability to rally and unify the nation against this common threat, the lack of genuine leadership – Trump’s utter inability to bring the nation together."
Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Rarely has an architectural experiment aroused such extremes of ire and admiration. One side is convinced the house is a masterpiece. The other expresses brutal condemnation of the entire project (leaky roof, danger of flooding, too-hot, too-cold interiors depending on the American Midwest weather).........Farnsworth encapsulated her personal ambiguity in her comment to a Newsweek interviewer: “This handsome pavilion I own is almost totally unworkable.” She told one journalist, “ … all I got was this glib, false sophistication. The conception of a house as a glass cage suspended in air is ridiculous.”
Apr 1st 2020
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of Good Government fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
Mar 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "The coronavirus crisis has forced us to look at our behaviour in a way that we’re not used to. We are being asked to act in the collective good rather than our individual preservation and interest. Even for those of us with the best of intentions, this is not so easy."
Mar 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "In March 2020, my sister Nancy and I did something that, as scholars, we had never done before: we wrote about ourselves, comparing our own experiences receiving cancer care on either side of the Atlantic. As we recently reported in the BMJ, much of our experience is similar. As twins, we both have the same form of cancer. Both of us received excellent treatment in well-established university teaching hospitals. Both of us are now in remission. But there is a glaring difference. Nancy lives in the US, covered under a good private healthcare scheme. I live in the UK, covered by the NHS."
Mar 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "In philosophy, individualism is closely linked with the concept of freedom. As soon as restrictive measures were imposed in Italy, many people felt that their freedom was threatened and started to assert their individuality in various ways. Some disagreed with the necessity of cancelling group gatherings and organised unofficial ones themselves. Others continued to go out and live as they always did. We often assume that freedom is to do as we choose, and that is contrasted with being told what to do. As long as I am doing what the government tells me, I am not free. I am going out, not because I want to, but because that shows I am free. But there is another route to freedom..........."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Repeated stress is a major trigger for persistent inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. The brain is normally protected from circulating molecules by a blood-brain barrier. But under repeated stress, this barrier becomes leaky and circulating inflammatory proteins can get into the brain. The brain’s hippocampus is a critical brain region for learning and memory, and is particularly vulnerable to such insults. Studies in humans have shown that inflammation can adversely affect brain systems linked to motivation and mental agility. There is also evidence of chronic stress effects on hormones in the brain, including cortisol and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). High, prolonged levels of cortisol have been associated with mood disorders as well as shrinkage of the hippocampus. It can also cause many physical problems, including irregular menstrual cycles."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s important to do things that make you happy or content as you are doing them – and doing them for yourself. Research has found that picking recovery activities you find personally satisfying and meaningful is more likely to help you feel recovered by the next morning."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACTS: "A recent study of nearly 3,000 physicists found that a scientist’s most highly cited publication had an equal probability of being published at any point within the sequence of papers the scientist published.........Creativity is not the prerogative of the young, but can occur at any stage in the life cycle...........there is not a single kind of creativity, but that in virtually every intellectual discipline there are two different types of creativity, each associated with a distinct pattern of discovery over the life cycle. The bold leaps of fearless and iconoclastic young conceptual innovators are one important form of creativity. Archetypal conceptual innovators include Einstein, Picasso.......very different type of creativity, in which important new discoveries emerge gradually and incrementally from the extended explorations of older experimental innovators.......The single year from with Paul Cézanne’s work is most frequently illustrated in textbooks of art history is 1906 – the last year of his life, when he was 67."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "As our global population is projected to live longer than ever before, it’s important that we find ways of helping people live healthier for longer. Exercise and diet are often cited as the best ways of maintaining good health well into our twilight years. But recently, research has also started to look at the role our gut – specifically our microbiome – plays in how we age."
Feb 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "In an increasingly polarised political landscape, we see differing political views challenged, not through debate and discussion, but through tribal behaviour. We often consider the groups that we belong to as worthy of empathy, respect and tolerance – but not others. What’s more, recent research has identified that we reward our leaders for being naysayers – negating, refuting or criticising others – rather than empowering them."