A Look at Plot Using Happy Endings by Margret Atwood
The plot deals with where a story begins, and how it ends. Some of the twists and turns that occur might be part of it, but the basics of plot are according to
Atwood in “Happy Endings” two people meet, a bunch of stuff happens and they die. The point Atwood is making is that plot, no matter how a writer contrives it, is inconsequential; because, all endings are the same. The plot is nothing more than a what, and a what, and a what. “Happy endings” starts with the main characters John, and Mary meeting, Atwood then asks what happens next. Atwood then suggests: “If you want a happy ending, try A.”
Similar source: Happy Endings Margaret Atwood
Atwood wrote six different versions of the events that occur between John and Mary. Series of events A is rather boring; those events could have taken place in Beverly Hills CA, New Haven CT, so on and so forth. If you read the events in B, though you get a much clearer mental image of what sort of environment this is occurring in. In the and everything winds up going like the events in A. I told you everything goes as in A. Well the events of A are in this case: John marries Madge, they have good jobs, buy a nice house, economy booms, they get promoted and can afford servants, have two children, have an okay sex life, friends who are nice, go on nice vacations, retire, have nice hobbies, and they die.
Originally this was what happened between John and Mary; however, a rather boring sequence of events. The events in B make for a much more interesting main part of the story with A being kind of a summary of what happens afterward kind of an epilog if you will.
Sub story B makes for a more interesting tale for most readers, or if it was made into a movie/TV show viewers. Atwood’s scenario B makes for a more interesting read because you get more of the details of the lives of John and Mary.
John becomes a fairly typical man; not one whom you would bump into every day but a character type you see often enough in literature, TV, and movies. Mary then is the tragic romantic who falls for a guy and even though he’s a jerk can only see the good in him. This continues for years, she refuses to listen to friends, refuses to see what to an outside observer would be blatantly obvious. John doesn’t care about Mary he’s using her for a free meal and sex. All of this wears Mary down; it would and does anybody in a similar situation.
Mary’s mental state is in such a state that it is noticed by her coworkers. Mary’s friends mention that they have seen John going round with another girl named Madge, by this time it doesn’t bother Mary. Mary’s friends also mention that they saw him at a restaurant with her; this is what she can’t stand, that he would take this other woman out to a restaurant but not her. Instead of just finding and chewing John out, Mary decides, on what is probably one of the days John would normally come over, to grab every pill she can find and take them. Mary downs the pills with a glass of sherry and collapses. John apparently has decided to end the relationship with Mary without telling her, and never shows up to read the note she left. These sequences of events are much more detailed, however, the main plot did not change, John and Mary die only now Mary is a suicide and John and Madge have a great life dying together.
Atwood wrote four other variations of the tale and gave us all six. The first two I have discussed the others I will merely mention the variations that occur. In C John is older than Mary, they have an office affair; John kills Mary and James, after he finds them in bed together, and then himself. Madge remarries a man named Fred, and it goes as in A with different names. D starts with Fred and Madge married, their house by the seashore gets destroyed by a tidal wave.
Real estate values go down, and the rest is what caused the wave and how they escape it then events go as in A. E varies D so that Fred has a bad heart so the rest is about the relationship till Fred dies, then Madge does charity work until end of A. F goes if this is all too rich for you make John a revolutionary and Mary a counter-espionage agent; reminds the reader that they are in Canada, and you still wind up with A just the in-between will be much more action packed. The plot drives a story, can even define it to an extent; however, it is still just a what, and a what, and a what, a way to go from start to finish. The details are what make a story interesting: the who, the when, the where, the why, and the how. If stories were the only plot there wouldn’t be much to them, and Atwood does a very good job at demonstrating that point. It doesn’t matter what the endings are all the same, you might be given other endings but ultimately and truthfully they are all the same John and Mary die.