Before he passed away, the great film critic Roger Ebert started (but did not finish) a short story entitled “The Thinking Molecules of Titan.” On Ebert’s website, his widow Chaz is now soliciting endings written by her husband’s readers. I’ve always, always regretted not writing to Roger Ebert with my analysis of “Blue Valentine”, so I suppose that was the primary reason I decided to enter the contest. But seconds after I had written and submitted my entry, a thought crossed my mind. “How does she know it wasn’t finished? Did Ebert say he wasn’t done? Did he say where he wanted to take this?”
Of course, all of this raises the larger question: Should a work left unfinished be completed by others when the author dies? In some ways, this is the literary equivalent of the medical DNR. There are always little nuances and mitigating factors to consider: Did the writer leave behind extensive outlines and notes? Will the finished piece do justice to the author’s original vision? Then again, we wouldn’t have many great pieces of literature if the survivors had listened to the last wishes of writers. Virgil reportedly wanted “The Aeneid” burned. It got published instead.
What if something happened to me tomorrow? Would I want someone to finish the novel that sits in piecemeal files on my computer? Personally, I would. There are so many ideas I wanted to share with other people and characters I wanted to leave with them. There are scenes I labored over that contain parts of myself that I haven’t shown to anyone–not even my family or friends. If someone could carry that on, I would be grateful.
There’s always the chance your story could be ruined, the original vision twisted beyond recognition. But what good would it do languishing in a drawer, or locked up on my hard drive? Characters deserve the chance to live…even after their author is gone.
If you are a writer and want to pay tribute to Roger Ebert, the contest is open until July 18 2013.