On Characters and Endings

Alright, I swear this is not another post about How I Met Your Mother. I definitely have thoughts and emotions (mainly homicidal and rage) on the series finale but those opinions were better eloquently written Kiri Callaghan and Chuck Wending. While I completely agree with both these author’s views on the episode, I wanted to add my two bits and have a post on the art of writing. Thus this post is essentially killing two birds with one stone. Mmm, sweet fowl murder.

Watching the series finale left me feeling a bit empty. I knew that I was left wanting and unsatisfied but unable to fully understand why. Reading the previously linked posts helped clear the haze, and I figured out why I was letdown by the episode. The reason is twofold; bad characterization and poor ending skills. In reality, these traits can be boiled down a bit further; the main issue was ego.

Allow me to explain, I have a working theory. I believe that every writer, to some extent, has a slight God complex. I know, I know, I probably insulted some of my audience, or at least a portion of those that aren’t bots. However, think about it. As writers, we create characters, weave together worlds, and build the rules and regulations that make a universe function. We have to be in our own heads and figure out how everything and anything will happen. This requires some degree of an ego to accomplish. We have to believe that we are capable of performing this Herculean task and do it in such a manner that it is believable to an outside observer.

Accordingly, our constructions really only exist in conversation with an audience. So whatever we make happen has to be acceptable by the audience. Now, I am not saying that your reader or listener has to like what you have presented, but they do have to consider it possible by the standards and world you have established. The truth of the matter is that no one sits down to write a complete story. We have an idea or a scene or even a line in our heads that doesn’t seem to go away, so we begin to write it out to see where it leads. Obviously, some authors might have an outline or a character/world bible where they have the basic parameters of the universe and certain rules or personalities fleshed out, but it is rare if an entire narrative is completely set in stone. Even if it is, it will undoubtedly change as you write it out and discuss it with friends, family, editors, and peers.

Of course, this is where ego gets in the way. Picture this: after hours (probably an hour at most if we’re being realistic) you realize that you have to make a character (let’s call her Jane) do something to move the story along. Unfortunately, Jane really wouldn’t ever do that, at least not by the way you have developed and established her character. So you have a few options; you can admit that you made an error and write a scenario in which Jane would actually commit that action based on her character or have someone else do it where the story would still make sense. Or you could say “fuck it, I do what I want” and completely create a scene that doesn’t make sense for Jane and thus no longer really serves the greater story. Guess, which one involves ego?

Most writers talk about a point where the characters seem to take on a life of their own and seem to just live out the story you are trying to write. It is partially true. At some point as a writer, you have thought about these characters and this world that they become real to you and you understand that they have unique personalities with distinct goals and desires. Still you have stories in your head that you want to tell which makes sense since you are a writer, but you have to make sure that the characters you create make sense for the tale you want to tell. If not, change up the story or make new creations because anything else is just lazy writing.

And that is the greatest disappointment of How I Met Your Mother‘s finale. The writers had an ending in mind since the inception of the show and they chose not to deviate it from it which ignored the development of their characters. The ending no longer matched the world their original idea had become. They went with their ego. In doing so they broke one of the basic rules of storytelling; they wrote the story they wanted and not the one worth telling.

As an aside someone has attempted to fix the ending and I think it is much better and works within the world of How I Met Your Mother. It is the ending the audience deserved and earned.


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