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Death To The Alternate Ending!

I thought I had finished A Handful of Dust the other day.

The story was at a stopping point. White space had creeped onto the page, and the book appeared to be over.

Then, I flipped the page to read what I presumed to be an afterword or acknowledgements or something similar. On that next page, a centered, bold header stated “Alternate Ending.” Ten more pages of copy followed.

Talk about a buzz kill.

I can somewhat get alternate endings on DVDs. It’s a nice little bonus to throw in there for people who are really fans of the film.

But books? Do we really need alternate endings in books?

I’ve read 200 pages and I’ve bought everything Evelyn Waugh, the author, has sold me. I love the story and I find the characters to be interesting. I’m right there with him the whole way.

Then, we get to the end of the story, an ending that seems fitting to the novel’s tone and plot development, and Waugh (actually, the publisher) throws in a little “Hey, if you didn’t like the way the story really ended, then you can imagine that it ended this way!”

What? Is this a “choose your own adventure” book?

I looked into the alternate ending in A Handful of Dust. Apparently, Waugh had to create a second ending because of copyright issues over the original ending, which had been previously published as a short story called “The Man Who Loved Dickens.”

The alternate ending is weak. So I don’t accept it. I spit it out.

I’ll base my review of A Handful of Dust (coming tomorrow) on the plotline with the original ending.

That said, do alternate endings ever work?

The only good example I can think of is The French Lieutenant’s Woman, but all of those different endings were built into the novel from the beginning. They weren’t a rushed afterthought.

Am I missing something? Do alternate endings ever work?

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. I believe the alternate ending is the concept behind fan fiction.

    Like

    November 13, 2012
  2. I’m not sure alternate endings “work.” They may provide other ideas the author (or others) may have had. I’ve run into very few in my reading. In fact, the only novel I can think of off hand which supplied alternate endings is Great Expectations. Perhaps the reason the author chose to write alternatives has something to do with their effectiveness, too. I imagine Waugh’s reason–to avoid copyright issues, would result in something less than consistent with the rest of the novel. For the most part, however, I don’t see much point in writing them.

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    November 13, 2012
  3. certainly not as rushed afterthoughts!

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    November 13, 2012
  4. I out grew alternate endings in the 5th grade when the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book grew old. I viewed Scarlett as an alternate ending to Gone With the Wind and that didn’t work for me so no, I don’t think they work in literature. But I don’t like them in film either. A quote from Lost: What happened, happened! I need closure.

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    November 13, 2012
  5. I don’t always mind an alternate ending; Persuasion has one that is as good as the accepted ending. The problem is that with dead authors we don’t always know which is the ‘proper’ one, i.e. the one the author intended. Manuscripts can be so messy and inexplicable.

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    November 13, 2012
    • I’ll be interesting in seeing what I think about Persuasion. Didn’t realize it had one as well. It’s on the list, so I’ll be getting to it at some point.

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      November 13, 2012
  6. Teresa #

    I had wondered about that second ending. From what I understand it’s the traditional happy ending – a far cry from the original ending. How could he live with it?

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    November 13, 2012
    • Yes. It’s the fairy tale ending that just doesn’t make sense with the rest of the story.

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      November 13, 2012
  7. I’m not familiar with this book (except for what I’ve been reading on this blog), but it this case, it doesn’t seem like the alternate ending was a terrible idea.

    This is the ending that the author had wanted, but wasn’t able to publish. It seems like it was presented for historical completeness – much like deleted scenes or a director’s cut on a DVD.

    Perhaps, rather that calling it an “alternate ending”, the publisher could have added the short story as a bonus, with an explanation of why it was written.

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    November 13, 2012
  8. The way I understand it, the short story was the novel’s original ending. That’s the one he wanted and liked. But after it was published, the novel was serialized for a magazine, which brought up copyright issues with the original ending because it had been published elsewhere as a short story. That’s why he wrote the second, alternate ending. Which is just bad and doesn’t match the novel’s tone at all.

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    November 13, 2012
  9. Of course some books NEEDED an alternate ending… imagine if you will, Rhett has all he can take from Scarlet. He pulls out an ax and chases her into a bathroom. She locks the door, but he caves in the wood, sticks his face into the opening a proclaims… “here’s Rhettttttttt”…. the rest is history. Rhett slaughters Scarlet in a fit of rage. He is sentenced and hanged in the public square. End of story. Which thankfully means, Alexandra Ripley NEVER writes “Scarlet”, the once highly anticipated sequel to Gone with the Wind.

    Case made.

    Like

    November 13, 2012
  10. Ryan #

    My copy didn’t have an alternate ending… maybe it’s just as well.

    Like

    November 13, 2012
  11. I think I would have a difficult time with an alternate ending as well. As It has already stated, after investing in reading 200 pages and becoming involved with the characters, I need the ending to flow with the story. I certainly understand being disappointed in not being able to write the story in the way intended, but was there not a way to use a different ending that did not raise copywrite issues and kept the integrity of the storyline? I’m not familiar with the book mentioned either, but I can imagine the disturbing “jolt” back into reality I would have gotten had I reached the end and had to “pick” an ending. No disrespect to the writer intended.

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    November 13, 2012
  12. I’m sure I might eat my words at some day, but that day is not today–so, I’ll say that I think alternate endings are a cop out. Unless the alternate ending can be done cleverly and humorously (think of the move CLUE with Tim Curry), alternate endings are just an attempt to make a subset of readers happy. As the author, you should be confident which ending is the correct ending. Life can’t have an alternate ending, so why do writers allow them to exist in fiction? (comment by Sarah-Ann B.)

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    November 13, 2012
    • Steven Wantz #

      I have to disagree for one reason. When you start comparing Fiction to Life, you remove the purpose of Fiction entirely. Fiction is a way for writers to escape reality and allow the reader to do the same. Fiction, in and of itself, is an alternate universe, thus, why couldn’t you have more than one?

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      November 14, 2012
  13. I think if the author provides an alternate ending as Fowles did, to highlight his post-modern intent to disrupt the reader, it’s one thing. But when an author has to cave to popular or legal demands as Dickens and Waugh did, I think it is a bad thing. It reminds me of excercises in rewriting unfinished novels from notes or rearranging them from the way they were originally published. It usually falls flat.

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    November 13, 2012
  14. Steven Wantz #

    I truly have mixed feelings about this. One one side, I think it gives readers a chance to delve deeper into the mind of the author to explore what the other side of their brain is telling them, on the other side, I think alternate endings, such as this should be left at the discretion of the editor. Good post either way, it definitely provokes some thought!

    Like

    November 14, 2012
  15. Can some one explain this post like I’m 6? lol

    Like

    January 10, 2014

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  1. Book #49: A Handful Of Dust | 101 Books
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