Your Characters Belong To Your Readers Too

This week I saw a rather good production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

Now, if you’ve never seen or read the original play, and only know it from the film, or My Fair Lady, be warned, there are spoilers ahead. I’ll leave a gap, so you don’t accidentally read them.

Now, the original play, much to my surprise, has a much more ambiguous ending than the film adaptations. You’re left unsure if Eliza goes back to Henry Higgins or not – and it’s probably not.

George Bernard Shaw himself insisted that Eliza married Freddie and even wrote a short story saying so. But almost everyone else – the original cast, the director, all future adaptations, almost everyone who’s ever seen it wanted Henry and Eliza to be in love. They wanted Eliza to come out on top, but they wanted the romantic ending.

This infuriated GBS. However, it’s a lesson for us writers. If you create real, complex, interesting characters, your readers/viewers will insist on seeing them their own way. You may have an strong idea about who they are, but once they have left your pen, they take on a life of their own, and the people reading the story will have their very own strong ideas about which way it goes.

That’s not to say they are right, or you are wrong. It just means you’ve created someone with a life that leaps off the page. You’ve created someone the readers care about, and identify with, and that is a compliment to you – just be aware that someone is going to disagree violently with what you do with them.

As for me – I choose to believe that Eliza goes back to Henry – eventually. After becoming an independent teacher of phonetics herself. I’m a romantic at heart, really.

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