For the Narcissist Lover in You…

The Journey, the Destination, or Just Plain Lost…

I watched the “Lost” finale a few weeks ago.  Initially I thought I liked it.  Now, I don’t think I do.  I think it ended up being an unsatisfying and messy cop-out.  Here’s why:

I think there are two types of stories– those about the destination, and those about the journey.  The story of “Lost” was not, to me, a journey story.  It was not about the ride.  It was about the destination, where everything was going to be paid off with a gigantic, perfectly plausible explanation.  The finale, interesting as it might have been, was not that.  It left too much unexplained.  We were promised, by implication, a logical conclusion.  What we got was an ambiguous, reflective question mark.  If “Lost” had been a “journey” story, that might have been satisfying (and perhaps for many it was).  For me, it was a “destination” story, and the destination was imminently unsatisfying.  So bleah.

The point, though, is this:  if stories (and therefore writers) are either about the destination or the journey, then which kind of writer am I?

Destination writers are those who you read just because you HAVE to find out what happens next.  You rip through the book to get to the last page and see how it all works out.  Who’s the bad guy?  How’s the good guy get away?  Who dies?  Who wins?  Who falls in love or goes to jail or wins the court case?  Etc.  Destination stories are not about the beauty of the writing (necessarily) but about the skillful handling of the plot twists.  Generally, I don’t reread destination stories, because the thrill, as it were, is gone.  I know what happens this time.  The actual line-by-line writing is not enough to keep me entertained the second time around.  To me (and I know a LOT of you will disagree with me on this, and that’s all right; this is very subjective), The Harry Potter series falls into this category.  I scarfed every single word of each book just to get to the next word, breathlessly and with frenzied anticipation.  Now, though, I know how it all ends.  I know the plot points.  I may reread bits here and there just to revisit details and scenes, but I haven’t worked through the whole series again from start to finish.  I know what happens, and for me, that was the whole point.  It was a destination story, and thanks to Ms. Rowling’s skillful handling of the plot, we’ve all arrived.  Whew.

Journey stories are, of course, just the opposite.  A good example, for me, is the writing of Terry Pratchett.  His Discworld books are an absolute linguistic delight.  I savour every page, every deliciously ridiculous wordplay, every double entendre, every fantastically impossible but teasingly plausible aspect of his universe.  Each book is like a thought experiment in ironic absurdity, the linguistic equivalent of an M. C. Escher drawing.  When I think back on a Discworld book, I don’t think about how it ended.  I barely remember.  I recall only the strings of laugh-out-loud dialogue and fancifully preposterous ideas that are taken, in context, perfectly seriously.  I can reread a Discworld book endlessly (and have), even though I never really care how or why the plot gets resolved.  It isn’t about the climax, it’s about the sights along the way.  Pratchett’s works are journey books all the way.

There is no better-or-worse about these two type of stories, and people will disagree vigourously about what books fit into which category.

My main question is, which one am I?  As a writer, I tend to think I am probably more a destination writer than a journey writer.  I am not good enough with language to write as gorgeously as a journey writer.  In fact, when I am writing a story myself, I am not as in love with the line-by-line of the tale as I am with the shape the entire plot makes in my head.  For me, the crux of the story is not just that the good guy might (or might not) win, but the surprise and mystery of HOW that might happen.  I am in love with the unexpected (but always eminently logical) twist that influences the climax, turns it on its head, and yanks the carpet out from beneath the reader.  These things, I think, place me firmly in the “destination” camp of writers.

And I am happy with that.  But it makes me want to challenge myself and attempt a “journey” story one of these  days.

Am I right?  Wrong?  For those of you who’ve read my stuff, are they the sorts of tales that you might revisit again and again, or is reaching the destination once (enjoyable as it might be) enough?

I think, ideally, I’d like to aim for both.  Surprise, surprise.  I’d like my writing to drive you to stay up all night to get to the destination, but to be good enough on a page-by-page basis to make you want to savour it again slowly, paying more attention to the subtle plot points and foreshadowings.  Methinks I will never stop striving for that.

As a reader, which, if any, do you prefer?  As a writer, what kind of story do YOU write?  Which is better/easier/more fun?  I’d love to hear from all of you.

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7 responses

  1. Hi Geo,

    I enjoyed this post greatly. It made me think on myself and my style of writing, and I too believe my work falls into the destination category. Though I’d like to believe there are bits of journey along the route toward that destiny….. 🙂 (pun intended) Speaking for myself as a reader, I enjoy almost every book I pick up (or stare at on a screen!) for one reason or the other. And just because its a destination that I remember and finished, does not mean I won’t go back down that road when I am nostalgic. I have reread your books each twice for instance, and gained joy from each experience. Something new and cherished. A smile in a phrase I may have missed, a laugh in a stanza I may not have had the first time. And always, I walk away feeling all the better. For every book I read and finish now makes the child I was inside feel all the more accomplished. The one that was ridiculed and made fun of in school because she was slow and needed extra time to understand…that child leaps with joy when the underling makeup of the work makes sense…when she too, can plan the scenes with depth to challenge another mind. Be it a journey or a destination….. 🙂

    July 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm

  2. Tipca

    I love this post. Your question is very good… and very hard to answer.
    As a reader, I think I enjoy both kind of stories. I love surprises, but I like to sink deep into the novels, short-stories, too, if that is “possible”. Sometime, when a book is boring or flat, you can’t do that, but then there is the end, that – hopefully – deserves, that you have read it. There are very few books I started, but never finished. I want to believe, that it isn’t wasting time to read a book.
    As a writer… Hmm, that’s difficult to say. I think I’m a destination writer, cause a lot of my work has a twist end. (As I said, I love them. :D) But I have some journey-like short stories and novels. I’m a destination writer, but just a little more as a journey one.
    And now, what kind of writer you are? I think both of them. Like Izzy. I think you’re not a destination, nor a journey writer. You are somewhere between them. Your write fantastic twists, I love those in your novels, but the way I come to there… I joy every single word. But I’m a little partial, because I “have to” read all of your books two times – once for myself, and once I translate it. 🙂

    July 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm

  3. megan

    When I write, I try to convince my readers that they’re reading it for the destination, but secretly, I like to write for the journey. I hope my story is one of those where you can read again and pick up things that make the journey sweeter as it goes along. (This decision on my part was mostly influenced by JKR. 🙂 )

    I also think that you’re a pretty big destination writer; I feel that you leave a lot up to the ending, where the finale could tilt the whole story either way, and for the most part, the endings have tilted positive, in my opinion.

    I suppose we view Lost in different terms, because to me, it was a journey story. We didn’t follow all of these characters through so much of their lives just for an ending: we followed them because we loved them and we wanted to see more of them. We wanted to see who they are. In regards to being promised answers, yes, the writers should have given us those. The writers kept assuring us that answers would be given in the end, which makes it seem like they were tricking us into thinking it was a destination story, but to me, Lost will always be about the journey. This doesn’t, of course, excuse the fact that they should’ve given us answers, but then again, we’re seeing the Lost world through the characters’ point of views, and they aren’t omnipotent.

    July 15, 2010 at 8:02 pm

  4. Hester

    Well, I’m not a writer but I’ll answer anyway. I am definately a journey person though the destination is not unimportant.

    There have been many books I have put down because the writing was vapid. The journey must be at least enjoyable, if not exciting.

    And while I don’t have to be wowed at the end, at 2am, when I have finished the last sentence of the last chapter, I have to be satisfied…or I am really disappointed and feel a little cheated.

    July 15, 2010 at 11:47 pm

  5. Hester

    …oh…and I forgot to say (this dang blog doesn’t allow for editing) that I think you are the unusual combination of Journey and Destination. I have loved your endings. They are unexpected, twisty yet believable…all the things good endings should be. But the getting there is also really worth the trip. I think you put words together well…which, after all, is the hallmark of a good writer, no?

    July 15, 2010 at 11:52 pm

  6. Tom

    This is a great topic. You definitely seem to know how to evoke conversation. I am a destination reader. I feel like most books I’ve read and even movies I’ve watched and enjoyed have been destination pieces. I like JKR, Tolkein, Terry Brooks, you of course and a few others. All of these writers to me write for the destination. There are exquisite journeys to get to the destination, but without the destination the journey doesn’t have meaning. There has to be a goal of some sort and it either needs to be reached or missed. Then again without the journey there is no story. Quite a quandary Geo.

    As to rereading, I have read your books twice, HP 3 times, LOTR at least 4 times, and much of Terry Brook’s Shanarra series 3 times. They are definitely less enjoyable the more I read them since I know how they all end, so to me I guess the outcome is very important.

    It’s like a sporting event. If I can’t watch a game, I don’t bother to tape it. Once I know the final score there is no reason to watch the game. There would be no emotion in it, no suspense. Another example would be the movies Sixth Sense. The movie is amazing, but to watch it more than twice is a chore, because once you know the secret the journey unravels and becomes pointless to watch.

    I love your stories, and they are definitely heavy on destination, but the journey is very well written and enjoyable.

    July 16, 2010 at 2:28 am

  7. Dawn

    ok I Love your books and JK’s HP and sad it maybe to many I have Proudly re-read every single one more than a doz times and always find new ways of looking at things and new understanding of characters same with the JP series by you …I just plain Love books ! end of my story I love them I love their smell and how i can curl up any place with them i love sitting in the rain under a tree and reading i love sitting on a beach at a lake with my toes in the water kicked back reading …I’d want to be a vampire so i had all the time in the world to read and re-read every book ever written I’ve read S.King’s books, Dean Koontz, Joseph Waumbau, Shakespeare, Twain,I Love Anne Rice and re-read like it’s the first time every time maybe i’m just strange…I’m the person you ask for wierd details and psychological comments about any character. I’m the one that breaths in the world and lives in it …i’m the one that’s been reading since i was 4 yrs old and tackled war and peace at age 12 and wrote an essay on it for extra credit in school. (yep book worm I read 300 books over the summer vacation every year 5th-11th grades) in 6th grade i tested at a senior High School level in aptitude and comprehension I read at a pace of 468 words a min. and still never fell below a 90% on a test in reading skills … I may be the wrong person to ask . I just LOVE books ! I think you should try anything George I just know you’ll handle the challenge and you’ll find a reader waiting for it. I personally like JP and HP world 4 me it is a destination i can hardly wait to take again and again. I love the scenery along the way, and I fill in a lot of creative details of my own along the way every time! I hope you don’t mind but for me the Journey into the worlds of HP JP GoD RH and your short’s in God of lost things make the arrival at a much loved destination well worth making the trip repeatedly.
    In fact i’m re-reading JP start to finish while waiting impatiently for a fourth LOLOL no rush George I’ll Cyber stalk you until then LOLOL ROFLMAO

    July 16, 2010 at 4:52 am

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