Those Pesky Loose Ends

Last night I was watching Imitation of Life before I went to bed, not the original from 1934, but the glossy remake from 1959, Lana Turner's first part after the scandal that nearly ruined her career (that would be when her daughter stabbed and killed her thug boyfriend.) I've seen the movie a million times, and find it entertaining (except for the cringe-worthy parts, like when Juanita Moore's character says to that of Lana Turner, "Just let me do for you.") But last night I noticed something that slipped past me before.

Lana Turner is in a restaurant with John Gavin when another woman comes up to her and says, "Nothing in it for me, honey, but I hear that they're casting for Tennessee Williams' new play." Lana Turner immediately goes to see the agent to get a reading.

So what was wrong with that scene? Well, the woman who gave her the tip was young and attractive, and I started wondering why she said there wasn't anything in it for her. She was obviously a struggling actress, too. What actor wouldn't want to be a Tennessee Williams play (Streetcar, anyone)? This playwright launched Marlon Brando and made Jessica Tandy the toast of the town.

I think it would have been much better to have the woman say something like, "Since I've got a gig I can't audition, but . . . ." or even, "I hear they're looking for a blonde . . . ." (the other woman was dark-haired, while the originally red-haired Lana Turner was blond for most of her career). That tells the audience why this lady isn't hightailing it to the agent's office to finagle a reading.

Now, you might be thinking that I've got a touch of compulsive disorder to be worrying about a character with two lines (and you may be right), but I like for everything to make sense in my movies, and my books, too.

Now, I know that everything can't be explained in a book. It's most important to tie up loose plot points than address every little thing. But sometimes those little details get readers to wondering. A friend was reading my manuscript, and when she read in my narrative that one of my main characters' parents had a stormy marriage, she scribbled ("What went wrong? They loved each other enough to get married, didn't they?") She had a special interest about this because, like the characters' parents, she is in an interracial marriage. I told her that the book wasn't about the parents' relationship, but about their daughter, and that it wasn't important. But I understand what she meant. Sometimes you just want to know why.

Already, just one month after turning in my manuscript, I'm starting to think of multiple points that need to be addressed in further depth, just in case there are any other I-want-to-know-the-reason-for-this readers like me who will pick up my book.

A writer's work is never done.


Patricia W. said...

Every reader brings something different to the story -- her own likes and dislikes, experiences, prejudices, hopes, and dreams. These are the things that will cause one reader to wonder what happened to the parents' marriage and another to read right past that, nary a question in mind.

I imagine that's why a writer's work is not only never done but is difficult to do. It's impossible to please everyone.

bettye griffin said...

Excellent point and explanation, Pat! I think it'll be okay if I let that one slide, but I do believe there are other aspects of the story that need more depth for the readers.

Thank God for editorial read-throughs and copyedits. They give tired writer's minds a much-needed break that will last for months.

In view of this, I have even more respect for writers who produce multiple projects a year and can keep them all straight. I think I'd lose my mind if I tried to go go straight from writing one project to copyedits for another to galleys for yet another.


Donna D said...

I'm not THAT nitpicky!

I hate when I read stories and I have to double back because something comes up out of the blue and I wonder if I've missed something. The "stormy marriage" comment may have come up if there had been no indication previously and it jolted the reader's mental image of the characters.

I had one of my characters make a comment that was slightly out of character, but it was made to allude to her motivation for doing something to the main character. Eventually it all washes out in the end.

I thank God for my editor! She kept me on point and made sure all the loose ends were tied up - even when I couldn't see them.

bettye griffin said...

Actually, Donna, it was my friend's similarity to my character's parents that made her curious to know more about them. It had previously been stated that there was much turbulence in the household, so on that one I'm safe.

I agree . . . there's nothing like a second pair of eyes to raise questions that might not have occurred to the author. A good editor is priceless.