Changing Your Plot With Your Characters: A Writer’s Perspective on the HIMYM Finale

Okay, so there has been an outbreak of mixed emotions following the final episode of the long running and well loved CBS hit, How I Met Your Mother. Although I have had a rocky relationship with the show in the past few seasons, as the writing (in my ‘umble opinion) deteriorated and became forced to lengthen what really ought to have been a short-lived premise, I stuck with it. Now, I’m in the position to offer you some thoughts. Naturally, SPOILER ALERT

First, let’s get the fan facts out of the way: I was a big Robin/Barney shipper, so I had some personal outrage at the “we’re going to spend a whole season at this wedding only to undermine it one episode after it finally happens” thing. It also seems a little pointless to introduce a character like the mother in the final season and then kill her off–especially when we’ve been waiting NINE SEASONS to meet and fall in love with her along with Ted. But that’s not what this post is about at all. This post is about the sad things that happen when you take something great like HIMYM and artificially extend its life and story in order to continue capitalizing on success.

HIMYM is genuinely held as a great show, filled with lovable characters and extraordinary comedic moments. Many people were very sad to see it go. But the premise–a man sits down to tell his children the story of how he met their mother–becomes quickly implausible when the show stretches over 9 seasons. There were plenty of good-natured jokes worked into the series about this fact, but it wasn’t until the final season and the finale that it became clear how detrimental this extra run time was to the integrity of the story the writers meant to tell.

That the “Ted ends up with Robin even though she isn’t the mother” twist was planned all along seems relatively evident, in that the footage of the kids talking about Ted being actually in love with Aunt Robin appears to feature the actors in their original ages from the start of the show (I don’t know much about TV magic, but I’m pretty sure the only good explanation for this is that it was filmed years ago, I think). This may have been the original plan, but it’s unlikely that those involved in creating the show ever expected it to last nine seasons.

As it became necessary to fill those extra seasons with more material, more character development, and more plot twists, the story naturally evolved and changed. Ted and Robin got together and broke up countless times to keep that tension alive. Barney was introduced as a rival to throw us off the otherwise predictable ending. But what really happened, what it seems the writers were unwilling to accept, was that Ted’s ending changed as his story grew. As he and Robin grew up and grew apart as characters, as Robin and Barney became a couple, the plausibility of the two ending up together at the end became less and less valid. Wouldn’t it be a little bit awkward if your ex husband’s best friend decided he wanted to get with you–again? Yes, it probably would. And how many chances are too many? How many times do you try to get together with someone, or think about getting together with someone, before your heart just can’t take the idea of trying and failing again? Furthermore, the reason for Barney and Robin’s divorce was that her career took precedence. In what realm, ever, would Ted be more okay with this than Barney?

As this is just one person’s opinion, and I’m sure there are plenty of people in the wide world of the internet who would happily disagree, I will keep my explications of why I think retaining the (presumably) originally planned ending was a mistake to a minimum. Basically, what I’m saying is that, regardless of how we feel about the HIMYM finale, there’s a lesson in here for writers: sometimes, your story and characters grow and change, making your original plans for them untenable. This means you must either go back and rewrite the characters to fit your intended ending (this is possible in a novel or short story, but not so much in an already-produced TV series, obviously) or be willing to embrace other possibilities for where your characters ultimately end up. Maybe that sounds a bit too much like characters are real, living human beings, but let’s face it–isn’t the point of writing trying to convince your readers for a little while that they are?

Over the 9 season run of HIMYM, Robin, Ted, Barney, Lily, and Marshall became people to their viewers, and I think that’s why so many people were disappointed with where they ended up. Readers (or viewers) form very clear ideas of what characters deserve, and it can be jarring when what they end up getting doesn’t seem supported by the course of their imaginary lives.

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2 thoughts on “Changing Your Plot With Your Characters: A Writer’s Perspective on the HIMYM Finale

  1. Just found your blog. I, too, am a featured writer in Aspiring to Inspire Women’s Anthology. My short story, The Idea of Home, is in the book. I couldn’t find your name on your About page but found it in the Anthology. Just wanted to say Hello from a fellow writer. I started reading Portraits and am enjoying it.

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