I know this is going to be a shocker to all of you fine folks, but I really love mythology. Really. Really, really. And the best part of mythology? Playing with it and putting it together in a new and interesting way that will appeal to a modern audience. This is, in fact, why I love comic books. It's also why I write the things that I write-- for the gosh darn fun of it!
But man, this does not make Helen an easy book to write. No matter how much I love playing with mythology, and how much I love writing, the end of this book always makes me feel like I'm getting my teeth pulled in a string+doorslam operation. This is the second time I've written the ending, and I think it's even worse this time around. I love my characters. But the mythology, the heart and soul of the whole story, has become my enemy.
Every time I open the document, I stare at it and wonder-- is there any possible way I can make this something other than tragic? Everyone knows what happens. Helen marries Menelaus, then she's stolen or runs away with Paris, and then:
big fat terrible DOOM.
There are a couple of questions that people who play with myth have to be aware of when writing: How true to the source am I going to stick? How much of the source material am I going include? And which sources am I going to follow? I think it's important to ask it early and to ask it often as you define your characters and explore the narrative of the story. Comb through your myths-- all the sources you can find-- and identify the places with multiple and conflicting accounts. And by God, exploit them.
Let's face it-- most of these myths don't have happy endings. The hero always dies eventually, and since we all know Being A Hero Sucks, it's usually pretty ignoble. Knowing where and how many liberties you're going to take with your story-- and how you're going to remain consistent as you do so-- is worth mapping out before you hit the ending and realize you're going to receive hate mail. And not only are you going to get it from the new fans whose hearts you just broke when you gave your hero his mythologically-accurate and terrible ending, but also from the mythology buffs who are going to tear you apart for everything else you didn't do to him/her.
But repeat after me: It's Okay To Change It.
Not only is it Okay, it's typical. All it takes is one read through the myriad source materials, and you can see the revisionist nature of myth. And if the people who wrote it down and made it up to begin with can alter endings and argue over whether Theseus was pushed, jumped, or slipped off a cliff face, you can certainly throw your two cents in as well. Find the character of your hero and let him or her do what comes naturally! If it means they didn't throw themselves onto a funeral pyre to escape a poisoned shirt before ascending to Olympus, that's okay. As long as you are writing the story, and playing with the myth, it's still alive. And if it's still alive, it is DEFINITELY still open to personal interpretation, just as it was open to interpretation when it was written down in Ancient Greek, or Latin, or Old Norse, or Old English, or whatever crazy backwoods dialect you found it from.
Just remember one thing: it's no excuse for bad story telling. Clash of the Titans remake, I am looking at you.