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Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Complicated...but it doesn't have to be!

This weekend my hubby and I rented the new-on-DVD movie, It's Complicated. I had high hopes for this movie. It had an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, not to mention a lesser player, but none-the-less one of our favorite actors, John Krasinski. And the premise seemed fun enough: couple falls in love again after being divorced for ten years. I thought it would be 2009's Something's Gotta Give, a movie that I loved.

However, this movie fell a bit short for me. Why? Well, while there were some fun parts to it, there were also some "I'm going to shove the emotion down your throat" moments, too. And those will ruin it for me every time. I won't give anything away, since it just came out on DVD and likely there are people looking forward to seeing it. But I will say that some things just didn't make sense, but they happened anyway, and felt terribly contrived. As if the writer/director believed they'd get more tears from their audience by going in a particular direction, even if it didn't make any sense.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's still a comedy, so nothing really terrible happens, which might explain why the big emotional scenes felt so out of place for me.

What does this have to do with anything, you might ask? Well, it got me thinking about my writing. While fiction allows - and often calls for - a bit of drama, I think it's a fine line we walk between drama and melodrama. And when we write big emotional scenes, I think it's incredibly important that we make sure the drama makes sense. Would the character(s) really do this? Would they react to this situation in this manner?

What's hard is when you're writing from experience. You might pour all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that you had into the scene, but when you read it back you might realize you had maybe overreacted. Or perhaps the way you reacted really isn't how your character would react. You're simply imposing the reaction on your characters out of a desire for catharsis. Trust me, I've done this many times, and when I read back through the manuscript, I think, "Why is she doing this? So-and-so wouldn't react like this!" And there goes another rewrite :)

So I use It's Complicated as a cautionary tale. Be true to your characters. They aren't you, the writer. They have their own personalities, their own character, their own hopes and dreams, and you must dig deep into their psyche - not yours - to find out how they would react to the situation. Otherwise, you'll have a big ol' pile of melodrama that will leave readers scratching their heads.

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar


12 comments:

  1. Great post, Jerrica. This is something I struggle with so I won't pretend to give any advice on avoiding melodrama.

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  2. LOL, Clarissa! I actually think you do a pretty great job of "keeping it real." So don't beat yourself up too much ;)

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  3. Amen to the melodrama. It is very hard to get the balance just right, to have the character experience things naturally, without going over the top in a bid to bring emotion to a scene. When I figure it out, I'll let you know :)

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  4. I totally agree, Erin...that balance is definitely hard to strike! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. This is a good reason to have a critique group. If a scene makes one of my crit partners roll their eyes, they better tell me. ;)

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  6. LOL! Samantha, I vow to tell you if your scenes make me roll my eyes. So far, I think you've been safe ;)

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  7. Great post, Jerrica. I lean toward melodrama and have to really watch this! I'm working on it though.

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  8. Thanks, Julie! I think there are times we all have to watch this! LOL!

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  9. I love this post, Jerrica. I haven't seen that movie, but there have been others in recent memory that leave me scratching my head about why the writers would suddenly have a character do something. Before I started writing, I would just leave thinking that the movie was a little odd. These days, I tend to think a little more about how it applies to the writing.

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  10. Nice post, Jerrica. Yes, it certainly is a fine line. My goal is always to make my readers laugh and cry; laugh / giggle I can do, but the other is far harder. Finding the true emotion of the scene is a constant challenge ... though it's even more frustrating when you read back a scene where you found it, accomplished it ... and you're not quite sure how you did it! ;)

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  11. Thanks, Catherine! I agree - before I started writing, I think I would have just written it off as bad or odd. I definitely delve a little deeper when there's something to delve into. Let's face it, though...there are some movies that are just downright horrible. LOL!

    Thanks, Shelly! Good point! Sometimes those inspired moments are great...until you realize you have no idea how to recreate them!!

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  12. Excellent advice! Couldnt' have said it better myself Jerrica! You're much more diplomatic than my favorite saying: Keep it simple stupid! LOL Great post!

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