My 12 year old son introduced me to a hilarious series of cartoons on YouTube. It’s all about providing alternative endings to popular films. (If you search ‘how it should have ended’ on YouTube, they’ll come up.) Some of them, such as the proposed alternative ending to Braveheart, are just surreal. But others give much food for thought to writers.
The one I’d really like to share with you is the alternative ending to Lord of The Rings. You may recall that in the original story the heroes trekked for ages and undertook awful trials and tribulations, and fought all sorts of baddies and indeed lost one of their number in order to successfully throw the ring into Sauron’s volcano.
Well, in this alternative scenario, some of them distracted Sauron from a safe distance while the others flew to the volcano on the back of an eagle, and simply and easily chucked the ring into the fire that way. This is all very plausible because, as we know from earlier in the story, an eagle rescued Gandalf from the top of a tower by having him fly on its back.
So this alternative ending was a much simpler and easier solution than the one they undertook in the original story. Of course, it would have knocked perhaps a third off the story, and been far less dramatic.
But still … you can’t have your characters choose the complex and dangerous option over the easy and safe one just because it suits you as an author. These characters are real people after all (!), and are doing their own bidding, not yours. They have their own agenda, and it’s not necessarily yours.
If the reader thinks, But why didn’t they just do X? and comes up with the easy solution him/herself, then it weakens your story dreadfully. At best the readers will be irritated at the characters’ stupidity, at worst they’ll be irritated at your stupidity or laziness.
Having such a situation is known as having a plot hole. Your plot should be smooth and tightly woven – a hole in that ruins your story.
The solution, thankfully, is easy to find. Just have one of the characters propose the easy solution, and have another character explain why it’s not possible. Or maybe they do try the easy solution and it doesn’t work out – this could add an interesting dimension to your story.
In other words, make sure that the complex and dramatic solution is the only possible solution for them. Cut off all other options.
So, in our Lord Of The Rings example, maybe one of the characters could have suggested the flying-on-the-eagle solution, and Gandalf or whoever could have pointed out that eagles can’t fly near the volcano or their feathers will melt; or Sauron is too attuned to the eagles and he’d notice them. These are only top-of-my-head suggestions. In a real novel I would – and I suggest you do too – come up with more credible reasons why the ‘easy’ solution cannot be used.
It would also be good to foreshadow those reasons. So in our example maybe have somebody comment to Gandalf how great it was that the eagle saved him from the tower, and he could answer that it was, but it nearly killed the eagle carrying him even that short distance.
And then, you can use the difficult/dramatic situation, confident that your reader won’t be sneering at you or your characters!