Learning from the Series Finale of HIMYM

Neil-Patrick-Harris-as-Barney-Stinson-saying-what-on-HIMYM-GIFIf you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was less than pleased with last night’s series finale of How I Met Your Mother. The show’s creators obviously wrote themselves into a corner in the first episode, but still decided to play out their vision for the show’s last episode nine years later character and plot evolution be damned. Here’s a great, very spoilery analysis of what went wrong.

But as my Twitter friend Emmie Mears noted, “Remember: if you’re a writer, you can always adjust a plan before it goes terribly awry.” And now upon reflection of HIMYM and Emmie’s comment, I know I need to do just that with Book 3 of the Guinevere trilogy. I’ve known for a while now something isn’t right with it. Now I know what it is.

I’ve known from Book 1 how the story was going to end – and I’m still going with that – but I realize now I need to rethink how I’m getting there. One character’s life does not currently have a satisfying ending. I need his death to mean something and feel like the sacrifice it really is. I also need to leave clues for my readers that make another big reveal make sense upon reflection, rather than totally coming out of the blue. This may mean that a whole lotta words get deleted and rewritten, but if that’s what’s best for the story, that’s what will happen.

But this is what drafting is for, right? And thanks to a change in plans, I have time to really think this through and do the rewrite it needs – after I write my next book. Why am I sharing this with you? 1) I want you to understand that I’m human and make mistakes, and 2) you are part of this process with me. I want you to see me learning as I go and maybe, just maybe, learn along with me.

Lesson learned: don’t stubbornly stick to your original idea if your story changes in such a way that it no longer makes sense. Sometimes as you evolve as a writer and your story takes on a life of its own, you have to be flexible as well. As writers, we owe our readers an ending that makes sense in the confines of the world they’ve invested in, even if they don’t agree with it. Whether or not you’ll agree with mine, only time will tell, but at least I can give you a lead up that makes the time you’ve invested in the journey worth it.

Readers, have you ever been disappointed by the ending of a series where it seemed like the author forced an ending? Writers, have you ever experienced the “oh crap, what I want to do isn’t going to work” situation? How did you handle it? Share your stories in the comments.