Dancing with the Denouement


The best piece of writing I’ve ever experienced was not a book or a short story. It was a movie—The Terminator. I found myself thinking about this movie and its brilliant screenplay by James Cameron last night as I was considering how to approach an explanation to a writing friend of what I call the punch-line denouement[1].

For those who’ve never seen it, The Terminator tells the story of Sarah Connor, a 1980s college student working as a waitress. Sarah’s life is irreparably changed when two travelers arrive from the future. One—a cyborg—has come to kill her to keep her from conceiving the savior of humankind. The other—Kyle Reese—intends to stop the cyborg and keep Sarah alive.

From a feminist standpoint, this movie is perhaps the first I ever saw with a female hero at the helm of an action film. Yes, Sarah is the hero. It is she who must change in order to make the future possible.  She begins as a fun-loving young woman who by the end has gathered together all the strength she possesses in order to face that future straight on.

Back to my point. Storytelling. The amazing screenplay by James Cameron blows me away every time I watch the movie or even think about it. I recommend it to anyone who wants to taste the joy of how to tell a very complicated story in a couple of hours. Cameron hands us each piece of information required at the very moment we require it.

Two men are after Sarah. Who are they? Are they both bad guys? Or, if one of them is good, which one is it? Boom. It’s Kyle Reese, the young man who looks totally out-gunned by Arnold and who came back in time because he’d fallen in love with Sarah from a Polaroid picture. Why is Arnold after her? What does he intend to do with or to her? Boom. She’s the future mother of the man who sent Kyle back in time to save her. How can you tell these cyborgs from humans? Dogs can sniff them out. And it goes on.

If you haven’t seen The Terminator and you’re a writer of any kind of fiction, I highly recommend it as the next movie you stream. Don’t accept watching it on commercial television; they cut out the stupidest stuff, including any time a blow from Arnold connects, even when he punches through a windshield. Brilliantly concocted and shot on a budget that apparently precluded getting permits from the city of Los Angeles for all those street racing night scenes (they filmed them on the sly then slipped away into the night without getting caught), it is, in many ways, an indie film.

But, the most important aspect of this film is the way Cameron sets up his final scene. The movie reaches its climactic ending right after Sarah and Kyle have consummated their blooming love for one another. The terminator kills Kyle and then Sarah terminates the terminator. Glorious.

Cut to the final scene. Sarah in a Jeep driving through the desert, dictating into a tape recorder saying, “Do I tell you about your father?” Then, she rubs her very pregnant belly and continues on briefly about Kyle.  A dog sits with her in the Jeep.


She pulls up to a little gas station out in the middle of nowhere. A boy runs up to the Jeep and exchanges a couple of lines with Sarah. He has a Spanish accent. He takes her picture with his Polaroid and then asks for payment which she gives him. It’s the picture Kyle had fallen in love with. The boy’s grandfather says something in Spanish, and Sarah asks the boy what he said. “A storm is coming.” Sarah looks off in the direction she’s headed and agrees when she sees the cloud. Then she drives off, and the credits begin with the Jeep heading away from the camera. Fade to black.

Now that all took far more time to describe than it takes on the screen. It’s a simple little scene, and every single aspect of it requires no explanation to the viewer because Cameron set it all up earlier in the movie. And that, my friends, is how to deliver the punch line to a story. Set-up is everything. You shouldn’t have to rely on explanations in the denouement. It should stand on its own.

[1] The denouement is the final outcome of the story, generally occurring after the climax of the plot. Often it’s where all the secrets (if there are any) are revealed and loose ends are tied up. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/what-is-a-denouement

A Heartfelt Admonition to my Mormon Friends

For those who aren’t Mormon, a bit of history: On October 23, 2015, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the final two of their thirteen gospel topic essays, the first being on “Priesthood, Temple and Women” and the second on “Mother in Heaven.” I won’t take the time here to go into the details of these essays, but they did get a lot of Mormons talking about how this affected the place of women in the church.

For nearly two years now, I, an apostate ex-Mormon, have involved myself in the activities of a group called Ordain Women who advocate for priesthood for women in the LDS church. I have written about this before and won’t belabor it here, but my time in the company of these progressive, brilliant women and men has taught me that at least a few members of the church are not the old fuddy-duddies I remember from my youth.

The last couple of weeks have been difficult for these people I have learned to cherish and love. First, the above essays were released, and I watched as some took hope from their content, while others remained skeptical. I desired more than anything to warn them that the seeming small steps forward the leaders of the LDS “corporation” had taken were, as Princess Leia would put it, “a trap!” But I refrained because this is not my spiritual journey, and each of these individuals will have to come to their own conclusions.

And then the world broke. This Thursday, November 5, 2015, the church made a small but very significant change to what they call the Church Handbook, a tome to which only priesthood holders (hence, only men—save a half-dozen-or-so women in top positions of leadership in the church) are privy. They amended the definition of who is considered an apostate and, therefore, immediately excommunicable. They added members of the church in same-sex marriages. Now, I don’t want to get too hung up on the unfairness of this because my point is not this but what this then precipitated with their next declaration.

From the Salt Lake Tribune:

As for children, a separate section of the handbook says that natural or adopted kids of same-sex parents, whether married or just living together, may not receive a naming blessing.
The policy also bars children from being baptized, confirmed, ordained to the church’s all-male priesthood or recommended for missionary service without the permission of the faith’s highest leaders — the governing First Presidency.
To get that permission, the policy states that a request must be made through a mission president or a regional church leader, and only after certain requirements are met. Those requirements are that a child is committed to living church doctrine and “specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage,” is 18 “and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.”

The church explained this policy as one to protect the children, and on the surface, one might find herself inclined to accept this. But here’s the dilemma. Not all of these children are progeny of the same-sex marriage alone. Many, all too many, I suspect, were born into mixed-orientation, Mormon-temple-sanctified marriages which were annulled in line with the church’s guidelines and rules when one of the parents came out as gay to allow the straight spouse to remarry. Custody as declared during the divorce was often joint, with one parent or both continuing to take the children with them on Sundays to worship with the rest of the “saints.”

With these new “rules” in place, what happens to these children as they reach the various church-defined childhood milestones? Will they be left out? The church assures their membership that these children will continue to be welcome, but at what cost? The degree of bullying and ostracism is likely to be intense.

Picture this. A boy becomes eligiblefor the first step in the priesthood at age twelve. Girls don’t, but that’s a separate story. So this young man comes forward to his bishop to discuss his impending calling to be a deacon, and the bishop says, “Sorry, Johnny, but your mom is a lesbian living with another lesbian so you will have to sit with the girls while all your friends pass the sacrament.” Ouch. Not to mention the intentional and unintentional meanness that children can visit upon one of their own who is considered “other.”

One last thing. The church is ultimately responsible for the situation these children of mixed-orientation marriage followed by divorce and subsequent same-sex remarriage find themselves in. The church encourages—encourages—young men and women to enter into unions despite any sexual orientation questions on either side. They promise the young couple that all these problems will be solved simply by the sharing of covenants in the temple and faithful adherence to all the church’s requirements day in and day out. And these young people, filled with the magic of a religion that promises so many blessings in the end, comply and submit to the sacrament of holy matrimony as Mormons define it.

So here’s the church, telling these kids that it’s all going to be okay, that Heavenly Father will make it right if they’re just good enough and then sending them off to a lifetime of unhappiness. In the end, many divorce, remain friends because there was probably love if not physical affection, and share custody of their kids. And then comes this ultimate betrayal. They did what the church told them to do, believed the promises which failed to materialize in their marriage, then divorced for the sake of their own sanity and the good of their children. And now this church which claims lineage directly from Jesus Christ has just fucked their children over.

I’ve hesitated for weeks to say what I’m about to say. I love the friends I’ve made through Ordain Women, and I don’t want to hurt any of them. I don’t understand why they stay, but I try to accept that they stay. But doesn’t there come a time when you just have to get up and walk away? When an organization such as the LDS church can so cavalierly brush little children away, how can you stay? I get the ancestral heritage stuff, and I get the Amish-like-but-unwritten policy of shunning and how in a neighborhood of nothing but Mormons living as an outcast is an uneasy feat. But I admonish you, please…